The Paul Haynes era started with a major disappointment last season.
Haynes inherited a team that went 11-3 and contended for a BCS bowl in 2012, the program's best season in 40 years. The majority of that team returned last season, but instead of a repeat performance the Flashes were never a factor in the Mid-American Conference race and finished 4-8.
Haynes realized some changes had to be made and knew where to begin. He realized his players needed to get tougher and that started immediately in the weight room.
"That was one of the things that we attacked, we had to make sure we got stronger," Haynes said in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier.
Haynes saw his team get out-muscled too often last season and has taken steps to rectify that.
"I still think we're a little ways away from where we want to be, but we'll get there," he said in the Record Courier. "The guys look good. We're close to looking like a football team."
While there appeared to be a disconnect at times between Haynes and his players in 2103, everyone seems to be onboard this time around.
"All of those guys improved like crazy, not so much in weight, but in what they were doing in the weight room," Haynes said in the Record Courier. "There's some skill (position) guys that look like football players. I commend those guys. We've kind of challenged them, and they accepted the challenge."
In an attempt to keep the lines of communication open, Haynes formed a 14-player leadership committee.
"One thing I learned as a new head coach was don't assume anything, and I assumed leadership would just happen," he said in the Akron Beacon Journal.
Defensive lineman Nate Terhune admitted the team has some internal issues last season.
"We kind of started to pull apart a little bit, and at the end of last year we finally started to pick it up and come together," he said in the Beacon Journal. "When everything is going great, leadership is easy. My first year, the leadership was there."
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: No coach wants to open the season with a conference game, but that will happen when the Flashes host Ohio University on Aug. 30. Any league game is important, but dropping this one will seem even more crucial since the loser will be in last place in the first week of the season. Kent has a three-game winning streak against the Bobcats, including a 44-13 rout in last season's finale. Kent hosts South Alabama the following week before facing two daunting road games. The Flashes visit Ohio State on Sept. 13, a game in which they'll be heavy underdogs. Following a bye week, Kent travels to Virginia for another difficult non-conference game.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Quarterback Colin Reardon must build on the progress he made last season as a redshirt freshman when he completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 1,957 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He needs to improve his decision making and cut down on the number of passes he had picked off. Wide receiver Chris Humphrey, who led the team in receptions (51) and receiving yards (613), will be the No. 1 target. Tight end Casey Pierce led the team with five touchdown catches and had 33 receptions. The Flashes will go with a four-man front, meaning Nate Terhune, Chris Fairchild, Terence Waugh and Richard Gray must control the line of scrimmage.
AREAS OF CONCERN: How will the Flashes fare without running back Dri Archer and defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix? Both players were game-changers and gave Kent a threat on either side of the ball. Archer scored 40 touchdowns and accounted for 4,980 all-purpose yards in his college career. Nix finished his career with 65 tackles for a loss of yardage, 24 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. Their loss will open major holes on offense and defense. The Flashes will have Trayion Durham to run the ball, but he's been hampered by a foot injury. Several key defensive players missed time in spring practice because of injuries.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's gonna be interesting to see how he accepts that challenge. He can be one of the best backs in the league. I think it's up to him how good he wants to be." -- Kent State coach Paul Haynes, in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier, on running back Trayion Durham.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
HEAD COACH: Paul Haynes, second year at Kent State, 4-8 record at Kent State and as a head coach
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
K/P Anthony Melchiori -- The senior, who was named to the Ray Guy Watch List, has the leg to get a look from NFL scouts. He averaged 44.5 yards a punt as a junior despite being hampered by a sore hamstring that forced him to miss three games. Melchiori also handled field goal duties, making 9 of 14, including a career-long 47 yarder. He was 20 for 20 on extra point attempts and had 13 touchbacks on kickoffs.
TE Casey Pierce -- Pierce was named to the John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List going into his senior season. He caught 33 passes, including five touchdowns, as a junior.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Trayion Durham -- The senior has had three solid seasons, but will be counted on to produce more since Dri Archer has moved on. Durham has rushed for 2,712 yards in three seasons, including 766 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. He missed spring camp after having surgery to insert a pin in his right foot and was brought along slowly in fall drills. Durham must overcome the injury if the Flashes are going to improve this season.
BREAKOUT STAR: LB/S Elcee Refuge -- The 5-foot-9, 230-pound sophomore impressed the coaching staff in spring and fall practices. Refuge recorded six tackles in 12 games last season, but had shown enough to get more playing time this season. The coaches think he's versatile enough to get into the backfield and make plays downfield.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DT Jontey Byrd -- The departure of Roosevelt Nix has left opportunities for other players to step up. Byrd, a redshirt freshman, took advantage of his chance and impressed the coaches in fall camp. As was the case with Nix, Byrd has an unusual size for a defensive lineman, standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 280 pounds.
--RB Trayion Durham, who is expected to carry the load for Kent State's running game, is recovering from foot surgery. He missed spring camp and was limited in fall practice.
--LB Devante' Strickland suffered a knee injury in fall camp. The senior is a three-year letterman who had 53 tackles in 2013.
--S Calvin Tiggle, who has battled injuries the last two seasons, returned in fall camp. The senior missed all of last season with a foot injury. Tiggle started the first six games in 2012 before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
--DL Marcus Wright, who made seven tackles in eight games last season as a walk-on, has been put on scholarship for his senior season.
--WR Ernest Calhoun, the son of former Michigan star running back Ricky Powers, is battling for playing time in fall camp. Calhoun has also been given a scholarship after playing as a walk-on last season.
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