Coach says team is less experienced, more athletic

Joe Harrington

Quarterback Julian Edelman stiff arms defensive lineman Sean Williamson during last fall’s homecoming game against Toledo. Edelman will be returning as quarterback in the upcoming season. SEAN DAUGHERTY | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

The last time Kent State Football won the Mid-American Conference title – in 1972 – hall of fame linebacker Jack Lambert was on the team, Richard Nixon was president and gas was, on average, 40 cents.

Since then, Kent State has had 10 head coaches, four winless seasons (1982, 1989, 1993 and 1998) and in 2005, The Flashes won just one game. What a difference a year makes.

Behind the play of sophomore quarterback Julian Edelman – a transfer from the College of San Mateo in California – and the second best defense in the conference, the Flashes went on a five-game winning streak and finished second in the MAC East division (6-6 overall, MAC 5-3).

This season the Flashes have 18 returning starters including Edelman and senior corner back Jack Williams, who led the nation with five forced fumbles last year.

With this depth returning combined with last year’s success, Kent State has been picked by four college publications (Blue Ribbon, Athlon Sports, Lindy’s and Phil Steele) to finish first in the MAC East. The MAC News Media Association Preseason Football Poll has the Flashes second in the East behind Ohio.

“Hopefully this will be the first year of many that Kent State is ranked in the top three (in the MAC),” coach Doug Martin said.

To win the MAC East, Kent will have to find consistency at wide receiver where the graduations of leading receiver Najah Pruden and Brian Bell, who is now with the Washington Redskins, have left a hole in the passing game. This is a hole that could be filled by freshman Rashad Tukes.

“We’re a bit little less experienced than what we were, but we’re a lot more athletic,” Martin said of the young receiving corps.

Defensively, Kent State must replace NFL players: Cornerback Usama Young (third round pick of the New Orleans Saints); cornerback Andre Kirkland (St. Louis Rams); and defensive lineman Daniel Muir (Green Bay Packers). But Martin said with the team’s depth, this should not be a problem.

Junior defensive lineman Sam Frist and sophomore cornerback Kirk Belgrave are part of a core group who saw extensive playing time last season.

“One of the best things our coaches have done is they played a lot of guys (last season). They may not have started, but they played a lot,” Martin said.

Another question mark is the kicking game. Martin said last season’s inability to connect on field goals (2-10) cost the team nine points a game. The Flashes return with both place kickers this season, junior Reid Macko and sophomore Nate Reed.

After the team struggled down the stretch last year, losing three games in a row and going 1-4, it developed a new team motto for this season: “Finish.”

“They’re hungry to finish what they started last year,” Martin said. “We got to a point (last season) when we could see the finish line and we just didn’t finish.”

Contact sports reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].