The hunt begins for Flashes

Deanna Stevens

Kent State football players participate in drills during a practice last week. The Flashes open up the season tonight at 7:30 against Minnesota at Dix Stadium. It will be the first time a Big Ten opponent visits Kent State. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT ST

Credit: Jason Hall

After a one-win season filled with depleting injuries and developing young players, the Flashes are about to experience the best part of their 2005 season – putting it behind them.

Picked to finish fifth in the Mid-American Conference East Division in the pre-season poll, the Kent State football team is looking for its chance to show its potential.

Coach Doug Martin said the new “On the Hunt” slogan is an accurate depiction of the team’s mentality.

“It’s a pretty appropriate slogan because we feel like we can compete with anybody,” Martin said at the MAC media day in Detroit in July. “Now it’s time for us to go out on the field and prove it. We are really anxious to see people line up against us.”

Tonight the Flashes will line up against the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the season opener at 7:30 p.m. at Dix Stadium.

New, aggressive offense

Not only do the Flashes have a new, fierce mentality, but after an offseason full of recovery and recruitment, Martin said the Flashes will have a chance to perfect their style of play.

After being hit by injuries at the offensive line and running back positions, Kent State is looking to regain continuity offensively. A key returning contributor is junior offensive lineman Travis McGraw, who was injured all of last season.

The Flashes are also benefiting from new offensive line coach Terry Tilghman. Junior quarterback Michael Machen said the former offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator from North Alabama has brought confidence to the line’s ability to protect the quarterback and block the run.

Last season, blocking for the run was just one problem for the Flashes. They averaged approximately 46 rushing yards per game last season, the lowest in the NCAA. According to, even if the Flashes would have increased the 505-yard total by 60 percent they still would have been the worst rushing team in the nation.

This year, Kent State is looking to redshirt freshman Eugene Jarvis and Michigan State transfer Tony Howard to avoid the same fate. Martin said that during spring camp the two athletes were a pleasant surprise that will make a significant impact.

“They didn’t get to play last year, so those two guys make us look like a different team offensively,” Martin said.

Improvements to the offensive line and the rushing game will also impact other aspects of the team’s offense. One aspect in particular is the passing game. Machen said the rushing threat will create more balance by opening up the pass.

Last season the receivers put up some big numbers, led by senior wide receiver Najah Pruden

Pruden said Kent State has a chance to take a lot of MAC teams off guard this season.

“With us coming off a 1-10 season last year, I feel we have a good chance to surprise a lot of people in the MAC,” Pruden said. “We are going to try and make a run for the MAC championship this year.”

While a run for the MAC championship is yet to be seen, the depth of the wide receiver group should help in the win column. Veteran leadership from senior Marcus Hill, who also recorded 33 receptions in 2005, and junior Cameron Bobb will be vital. Sophomores Shawn Lewis and Shawn Bayes both saw significant minutes last year, and their experience will add to the amount of weapons on the field this year.

Experience returning on defense

On defense, the Flashes are returning nine starters. Martin said although some of the linemen are young, the amount of experience they gained last season will be evident.

“Defensively, when you look at our secondary, those guys have a lot of snaps under their belt,” Martin said. “There is a lot of experience there, and a lot of speed. So we can do some different things defensively that we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

The Flashes will run a 3-4 defense led by defensive lineman Daniel Muir. The senior was named to the pre-season All-MAC team after his 52-tackle, 3.5-sack season.

Junior Colin Ferrell is also returning to the defensive line. Ferrell played in every game last season, started in nine and had 51 tackles. Senior Bruce Rice is back on the line after suffering a broken foot last season.

Even with the amount of starters returning, the Flashes will have to make up for the loss of record-setting linebacker Justin Parris, and Jon Sessler, who graduated.

Optimistic about the future

The Flashes will also try to make up for their performance last season, and they would not be the first team to do so.

“The great thing about our conference is everybody is pretty close talent-wise,” Martin said. “You look at Western Michigan who went from 1-10 (in 2004) to 7-4 last year. That shows you how quickly you can turn things around in this league.”

Any sort of a turn-around will depend on the resolution of two things: how well the team can rebound from injuries and if it can stay healthy.

“We have a real mature group of players that we’re dealing with right now,” Martin said. “They understand that they aren’t responsible for the past history of Kent State football. But they can be responsible for the future.”

“That’s all we’re really concentrating on. We’ve worked really hard on becoming a confident team, by out-working people in the off-season,” he said. “And I think our players really feel like they have out-worked people.”

Contact football reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].


Aug. 31 – Minnesota

Sept. 9 – @ Army

Sept. 16 – @ Miami

Sept. 23 – @ Bowling Green

Sept. 30 – Akron

Oct. 7 – @ Temple

Oct. 14 – Toledo (Homecoming)

Oct. 28 – Ohio

Nov. 4 – @ Buffalo

Nov. 11 – @ Virginia Tech

Nov. 18 – Eastern Michigan

Nov. 24 – @ Ball State