Former KSU athletes continue success after graduation

John Sabol

Five Golden Flashes recently signed professional contracts to continue to playing baseball. Emmanuel Burriss, Drew Saylor, Chad Wagler, Joe Tucker and Todd Balduf all finished their collegiate careers this past spring, and now they will try to pursue their Major League careers.

These are just few of many former athletes from Kent State who have reached the professional level.

The Stater picked five former Flashes to find out what they’ve been doing since they left Kent State. It was hard to narrow down, but these five are among the most recognized athletes today: Trevor Huffman, Antonio Gates, Ben Curtis, Dustin Hermanson and John Edwards.

Huffman plays overseas

Trevor Huffman, a 2002 graduate of Kent State, led the Golden Flashes to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament twice — including once all the way to the Elite Eight, where Kent State lost to Indiana. Huffman, who averaged 16 points per game, was a deadly 3-point shooter and holds the schools record with a career of 210 from beyond the arch.

A leader on and off the court, Huffman was loved, from former men’s basketball coach Stan Heath to Athletic Director Laing Kennedy.

“Trevor was a great kid who certainly was one of the best basketball players Kent State has ever seen,” Kennedy said.

At the conclusion of his senior season and school year, Huffman decided to continue his basketball career over in Europe. Kennedy said Huffman has played a few seasons in Germany and is continuing to play.

Ben Curtis has success on PGA Tour

Ben Curtis, a 2000 graduate and former Kent State golf star, has been playing on the PGA tour. While at Kent State, Curtis led the Flashes to MAC title after title and finished with remarkable scores. In 2000, Curtis helped the Flashes to a school best, ninth in the nation.

Curtis’s pro career was highlighted by winning the 2003 British Open, giving him his first ever major victory. Since that historic event, Curtis hasn’t won any majors but did recently win the 2006 Booz Allen Classic in Maryland.

Hermanson earns World Series ring with White Sox

Since 1994, Kent State has had 35 baseball players who have been chosen in the MLB draft. But before the mid ’90s, a former baseball player led the Flashes to some great seasons. Dustin Hermanson pitched for Kent State from 1992 to 1994. In 1992, Kent State won the MAC Tournament, where Hermanson was named MVP.

When his Kent State baseball career was over, Hermanson was drafted by the San Diego Padres and soon his MLB career took off. In his 10-year-plus career in the majors, Hermanson has played for six teams.

Currently playing for the Chicago White Sox, Hermanson got to partake in the 2005 World Series that the White Sox won, as he pitched two-thirds of an inning, facing two batters in Game Six.

Edwards makes the jump to the NBA

A local boy and product of Hudson, John Edwards, a 2004 graduate, helped lead the men’s basketball team to a 98-34 record during his four years. Edwards, a walk on, gave many MAC teams problems as the 7-foot center would rebound, score and block. In his senior season, Edwards had 81 blocked shots and finished his career with 179, which still leads Kent State records.

This non-drafted ball player signed a free agent contract with the Sacramento Kings, but was released before the 2004 to 2005 season. Picked up by the Indiana Pacers in fall 2004, Edwards averaged just over one point a game in 24 games.

Currently, Edwards plays back-up center for the Atlanta Hawks and has played in 40 games this past season.

The Kent State Department of Intercollegiate Athletics’ motto, “Tradition is Excellence,” certainly says a lot not only about the program, but also the school. The traditions of athletes that turn pro are uncommon for a MAC school.

Not only does the department love the athletes, but the athletes love the department, said Kennedy, who has been the athletic director since 1994.

“We have a strong relationship here at Kent State,” he said. “These kids feel we are part of their family, and it really shows.

“This is the most exciting moment in my life as an athletic director. To be part of these kids’ lives is special.”

Gates changes sports

Probably the most famous athlete on this list is one of the most popular in his sport. He is recognized as one of the best at tight ends in the NFL — and he didn’t even play football at Kent State.

Antonio Gates, a 2003 graduate, like Huffman, led the men’s basketball team to the Elite Eight, but at the conclusion of his senior season, Gates didn’t have the aspiration to continue to play basketball but to play football. With his size and strength, NFL scouts quickly noticed his athletic ability.

Former voice of Kent State men’s basketball, Ty Linder, recalled Gates’ performances as a basketball player.

“I remember when he quickly became a MAC player of the year candidate in the middle part of the 2003 season,” he said. “When he left Kent, it was pretty much common thinking that his basketball playing days were done, and the NFL was next.”

Gates signed a free agent contract with the San Diego Chargers, and in his second season, people all over the country were stunned by how well Gates performed. Leading the Chargers to the playoffs, Gates quickly became a fan favorite in San Diego.

Catching 13 touchdowns and receiving 964 yards in 2004, Gates solidified himself as one of the NFL’s best young tight ends.

“Antonio Gates was a tremendous athlete,” Kennedy said. He has a great relationship with current men’s basketball coach Jim Christian and still keeps in contact with the school, he added.

“This is home for Gates,” Kennedy said.

Contact general assignment reporter John Sabol at [email protected].