Coach Darrell Hazell had a simple message for his players heading into spring practice.
Be ready to compete for a job. And that means everybody.
“It’s an open spot at every position,” he told the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier. “And at the end of the game, we are going to play the best players at all positions … to give us the best chance to win a championship.”
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Although Kent State finished 5-7 for the third consecutive season, Hazell believes the program made progress in his first year on the job. After beginning the season 1-6 and 0-3 in Mid-American Conference play, the Golden Flashes won four games in a row and had a chance to become bowl eligible before losing to Temple in the season’s final game.
Kent State defeated Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Akron and Eastern Michigan in its winning streak. Hazell said that momentum has carried over into offseason workouts. He wanted that momentum to keep building into spring and fall practice sessions.
“We all realize there is a lot of work to do for us to get where we want to be,” he said. “We feel very good about the strides we made at the end of last season. We’ve been together for a year now and our kids and coaches are excited about what’s ahead.
TOP OF THE CLASS
–DT Chris Fairchild (Oak Hill School, Oak Hill, OH) — Weighing 300 pounds, Fairchild could see immediate playing time at nose tackle. He recorded 72 tackles, including 20 in one game, and had three sacks last season. Fairchild was a second-team All-Ohio selection.
–OL Jake Witucki (Highlands High School, Natrona Heights, Pa.) —The coaching staff said Witucki could move into a starting role immediately. He was a first team Greater Allegheny All-Conference selection and was named to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s North Fabulous-22 roster in 2011.
–CB Adam Maxie (Covenant Christian Academy, Westlake, Tex.) —Maxie could contribute right away in Kent State’s secondary. He was a first team all-Texas selection as both a junior and senior. Maxie had 137 tackles in 2011. His father, Brett, is the defensive backs coach for the Tennessee Titans
Golden Flashes facing QB battle
–Coach Darrell Hazell will have a full-fledged quarterback controversy that might last until the season begins. And the coach is fine with that. Spencer Keith, who showed improvement as last season progressed, will have to battle to hang on to his job in spring and fall practice. David Fisher, a junior college transfer, is taking classes at Kent State and could win the job from Keith.
Fisher began his career at Nevada and played at Palomar Community College last season, where he completed 184-of-333 passes for 2,539 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Fisher also ran for 403 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I think the biggest thing is his charisma, his toughness and his ability to lead,” Hazell said in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier. “He’s always got great composure when he’s on the field.”
Keith was benched during the Northern Illinois game last season, but kept his job simply because Hazell had nowhere else to turn. Keith completed 51.1 percent of his passes for the season, averaging 140.2 yards a game, with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Keith threw seven touchdown passes and wasn’t intercepted during Kent State’s four-game winning streak late in the season.
–The Golden Flashes must play smarter football if they are going to contend for a championship. Kent State was called for 76 penalties totaling 764 yards. That included an endless succession of personal fouls, late hits, chop blocks and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The penalties extended drives on defense and hampered drives on offense. These silly mistakes can’t be tolerated again.
Practice priorities: Improving the offense will be the No. 1 priority. Kent State scored 205 points last season, including 43 in the first quarter. Quarterback Spencer Keith’s inconsistent play was one reason. A poor performance by the offensive line, which allowed 30 sacks, was another. Kent State allowed 291 points last season, but some holes on the defensive line must be filled.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Athletically, probably a lot of them could play right away, but it’s going to come down to how well they apply themselves to learn our system. It depends on what’s above their shoulders, how well they pick it up and understand our schemes.” — Kent State Coach Darrell Hazell, on the Golden Flashes’ 25-player recruiting class.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY LOSSES: The offense, which struggled all season, has several holes to fill. Center Chris Anzevino, running back Jacquise Terry and receivers Sam Kirkland and Chris Gilbert must be replaced. Tackles Les Stalker and Ishmaaily Kitchen are the most significant losses on defense, which will be the team’s strength again in 2012. Replacing Matt Rinehart, the leading punter in school history, won’t be easy.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2012:
DE Roosevelt Nix — Thanks to playing with turf toe since the opening game, Nix’s numbers were down from his freshman season, but he was still a dominant force for the Golden Flashes. The sophomore had 17 tackles for a loss resulting in 71 yards. Nix also had 4 1/2 sacks and forced three fumbles. In two seasons, he has 14 1/2 sacks and 37 tackles for a loss.
RB Trayion Durham — Durham took the position and ran with it late in his freshman season. He gained 371 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, and ran for four touchdowns in the final five games. Durham gained 630 yards on 186 carries last season.
LB Luke Batton — Batton is one of those defensive players who does a little bit of everything. He led Kent State with 102 tackles, including 50 solo stops, in his junior season. Batton also had seven tackles for a loss, recovered a fumble and blocked a kick.
LB C.J. Malauulu — The junior is coming off a solid season and again will be one of the team leaders on defense. He was second on the team with 83 tackles, including 9 1/2 for a loss of yardage and 3 1/2 sacks. Malauulu had 40 solo tackles, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
–RT Terrell Johnson, who began the season as a starter on the offensive line, missed the last two games because of a concussion. He’s expected to be ready for spring practice.
–WR Tyshon Goode appeared to work his way back into Coach Darrell Hazell’s good graces late last season. After seeing his playing time reduced because of what Hazell thought was a lack of effort, Goode made five catches, including a 70-yard scoring pass, and 129 yards against Eastern Michigan. He finished the season with 26 catches for a 13.2-yard average.