Kent State’s next man up approach propels running back room

Mitch Meyers

Ever since Dri Archer’s dominance in 2012 and 2013, Kent State could not find a good fit in the running back room.

After 2013, the Flashes’ rush offense dropped to last in the Mid-American Conference with only 82 yards per game. Since then, they have struggled to find someone to really control the backfield, until Jo-El Shaw.

“People look for me to make plays,” Shaw said after the Spring game prior to the 2019 season. “Even if I make plays I still have to be a leader and try to push everybody to be the best they can.”

Shaw finished last season averaging 113 yards in his last 4 games, so it seemed 2019 would be his year.

In his first five games, he averaged 60 yards per game but didn’t travel to the game in Akron. This gave Will Matthews, coming off an injury, a chance to spark. He had a career-high 126 yards, a touchdown and led the Flashes to a 26-3 victory.

After the game, Head Coach Sean Lewis said, “Jo-El is an issue we are going to keep in house.”

Shaw then made the trip to Ohio University, running for only 33 yards, then played against Miami. Against the Redhawks, he lost a total of 11 yards on the game and fumbled at the Miami 2-yard line. Kent State lost 23-16.

That fumble would end up being his last rush as a Kent State football player. The following week, his name was nowhere to be found on the roster.

“He’s no longer on the team, that’s it,” Coach Lewis stated after the Toledo loss. “He’s no longer on the team and no longer a part of the family, and I’m not going to comment anymore on that.”

Shaw was off the team, and then immediately declared for the NFL draft.

“I will be pursuing an even bigger area, and I am declaring for this year’s 2020 NFL Draft,” Shaw tweeted on November 14th.

Even though the running back room was smaller, the production was much larger.

Since the loss to Miami, Kent State’s averaged 202 yards per game and 260 yards per game in the last 2 games.

“We just feed off of each other, we feed off each others energy. We just make each other better,” Matthews said.

Sophomore running back Xavier Williams added, “There’s never really a drop down or a drop back or a step back. Everybody is always practicing so they’re prepared and ready to go in when they’re thrown in the fire.”

True freshman Joachim Bangda has led the way in yards per carry (min. 10 carries) with 6.7 yards per carry. Followed by Matthews (4.8 yards) and Williams (4.7).

“It’s kind of like if you have a brother. You’re going to battle your brother but if anyone comes at the family, you and your brother are going to get at them a little bit,” Coach Lewis said on this year’s running back group. “Those guys are completely unselfish, very humble, they’re all hungry in the right way, but they’re all their biggest cheerleaders as well.”

Each running back has had their moment this season. A key factor going into the Frisco Bowl this Friday is that the Flashes are able to control the time of possession and are able to run the ball consistently.