Flashes look to finish what they started last year

Joe Harrington

The motto for the Kent State football team is “finish.” Finish every play, every drive, every tackle. It’s simple, and makes perfect sense for a team that struggled to score after long drives and a defense that struggled in the red zone.

Last year, the Flashes shocked everyone when they started the season 5-2 after a 1-10 season in 2005. But the team struggled after the hot start, going 1-4 the rest of the way.

The “finish” motto could also mean the end of a 35-year period without a Mid-American Conference championship or bowl game appearance. Several preseason polls believe the 2007 team can end the drought. With 18 returning starters, the Flashes will be more than able to prove those polls right.

The offense returns junior starting quarterback Julian Edelman, who rushed for 658 yards and threw for 1,859 yards with 10 touchdowns last season. Although Edelman brought excitement with his scrambling – he had seven rushing touchdowns, he still threw more interceptions, 11, than touchdowns.

With the loss of leading receiver Najah Pruden, who graduated, the Flashes will have to rely on the growth of their still developing quarterback.

“Last year, I wasn’t as experienced at the quarterback position and that’s a huge part of the puzzle for the offense to be effective through the air,” Edelman said. “I’ve got a year under my belt and I feel with the experience I have, (the offense) can step (the passing game) up.”

Edelman won’t be the only returning piece to the offense Sophomore running back Eugene Jarvis, who ran for 798 yards, also returns to the backfield. Darren Rogers will also see time at running back, giving the Flashes an exciting player in the backfield that can play wide receiver and even quarterback. Martin said he will try to put the ball in Roger’s hands as often as he can.

With the talent the team has in the backfield, senior offensive lineman Joe Marafine is confident his line can open up some running lanes.

“We want our running back to get 150 yards a game,” Marafine said.

The wide receiving corps represent the biggest question mark on offense. Junior Shawn Bayes and sophomore Phil Garner lead a young and inexperienced group that has impressed many in camp.

“I think we’ve got major upgrades at the wide receiver position,” Martin said. “Talent wise, we’re a little bit less experience than we’ve been but we’re more athletic.”

But the strength of the Kent State football program has not been the offense. It’s the defense, which ranked second in the MAC and 24th nationally last season. Although the defense has lost several players from last season, senior defensive lineman Colin Ferrell believes it can overcome the losses.

“We’ve just been working hard. Three of our (former) seniors are playing football on Sundays right now and that’s hard to replace,” Ferrell said, “But lucky for us, we have a lot of talented young guys that are ready to step up and make something happen.”

Defensive backs Rico Murray, a junior, and sophomore Danny Sadler will have to replace former Flashes Usama Young – a third round pick of the New Orleans Saints – and Andre Kirkland- who signed as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams. With help from senior Jack Williams, who is considered one of the best in the conference, the defensive back field should still be a strength. Martin said the depth will allow the defense to replace the graduated players with ease.

One unit that needs to improve is the special teams, which weren’t very special last season. Kent State converted just two field goals in 2006, which cost the team nine points a game, Martin said.

Nate Reed, one of the kickers from last season, returns as the starter. Reed went into the offseason with a goal to improve his game by watching lots of tape of other kickers, primarily Pittsburgh Steelers’ kicker Jeff Reed.

“I had a solid spring, solid summer, solid camp so I’m feeling really good right now,” Reed said.

The Flashes open the season against Iowa State, where they hope to begin their drive to the MAC Championship game in Detroit. If they make it there Kent State football just may be able to finish what they started.

Contact Football writer Joe Harrington at [email protected].