Martin remains optimistic despite loss of a player

Kali Price

Sophomore running back Jon Drager was injured in Saturday’s Homecoming game against Miami. He is not expected to return this season, and his future eligibility is questionable.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Despite football’s 27-10 loss to Miami of Ohio on Saturday, Kent State coach Doug Martin wasn’t necessarily disappointed with the team’s performance.

In a Monday press conference, Martin maintained the idea that he is still confident in the program.

“We have made a lot of progress as a program.” Martin said. “When you start comparing what we’ve done in the past against the Miamis of this league, the upper eshcelon teams, it was 20-10 going into the fourth quarter and we had a chance to win that game. In previous years, those teams have overwhelmed us. In that respect we’ve made a lot of progress.”

The team may have made progress in general, but Martin said that of all parts of the game, he was most pleased with the defensive side.

“I think that our defense played excellent, they played hard, they made plays. They didn’t let Miami’s receivers take the game over like they have in the past. They got turnovers, which Miami had not turned the ball over, but they did Saturday. I thought our kids played well.”

But despite all of the things that Martin was pleased with, the mood changed drastically when the topic of redshirt sophomore running back Jon Drager’s injury was presented.

Drager went down in the first quarter of Saturday’s game.

“Drager tore his ACL, it was his left knee and he’s torn both now,” Martin said. “So obviously we’ve lost Jon for the remainder of the year, and we’re brokenhearted for him first of all, and for the team too. He was really giving us something out of the backfield, we’d handed him the ball twice and they hadn’t tagged him yet.”

Drager was only able to play in two games in his Kent State career after being out all of last season with a knee injury.

“Jon’s just real disappointed right now,” Martin said. “The disappointment is just missing out on this year and he felt good about that running back position, and he was having a great year returning kicks. He’s disappointed that he’s not going to be able to help this team now.”

As for Drager’s future eligibility, Martin said that it is in the hands of the NCAA because Drager was already a redshirt.

“We can apply for a medical hardship,” Martin said. “We’re going to do that and try to get him an extra year. We’d like to think that the NCAA will be nice enough to grant us that.”

The key to the Flashes’ offense this season is speed, and without Drager, the Flashes will have to fill that spot in the backfield.

Because of the loss, the Flashes will have to look toward junior Luke Tillman and freshmen Jerry Flowers and Greg Keys to fill Drager’s spot.

“We’re still going to have to generate a running game, but we did have special plans to get Jon involved early in that game and it was working,” Martin said. “So we’re working with Luke Tillman who’s back now and almost fully healthy. Flowers also needs to take on a bigger role along with Tillman. I don’t think Luke Tillman can take that job by himself but between him and Flowers and Keys, I think we can generate some productivity back there.”

Martin said that this season so far has been frustrating for everyone for many reasons.

“It’s like giving birth. We’re going through some birthing pains right now,” Martin said. “It’ll happen. I don’t know that you can speed it up as a coach, you can go out and practice as hard as you can and prepare them the best you can prepare them. Eventually, they’re going to walk out on the field and everything’s going to work for them. It’s frustrating not only for them, but for the coaching staff as well because we can really see how close we are.”

In his usual fashion, Martin remained optimistic and is looking towards a bright future.

The Flashes travel to Athens, Ohio, on Saturday to face Ohio (1-2) at 2 p.m. It will be the Bobcats’ first Mid-American Conference matchup.

Martin said that playing Ohio will be difficult, but he has faith in his Flashes.

“I think (Ohio) is a really good defensive football team,” Martin said. “I don’t think they know how good they are offensively and we don’t either because of the competition they’ve had. So this will probably be a good game for them to see where they are too.”

Contact assistant sports editor Kali Price at [email protected].