September 30, 2008

Improved depth may minimize key losses

Despite its long history of mediocre, and often just plain bad football, Kent State has had its share of talented players wear the blue and gold. From former linebacker and Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Lambert to current players like Josh Cribbs (Cleveland Browns), Usama Young (New Orleans Saints), Jack Williams (Denver Broncos) and James Harrison (Steelers), the Golden Flashes are well represented at the next level.

But a few talented players each season haven't been enough to turn around the struggling program. Since 1920, the Golden Flashes have compiled a 297-477-28 record and the nation's lowest all-time winning percentage of .388 (Florida International actually has a lower winning percentage but has only played Division I football since 2004).

The biggest challenge for Kent State hasn't been fielding a talented team, it's been building depth to overcome injuries to key players.

No Kent State head coach knows that better than current front man Doug Martin. In Martin's five years he has been haunted by injuries to key players.

"Nobody's feeling sorry for us," Martin said. "The next guy has got to go play. We're coaching as hard as we can coach with who's there. That's who we've got to go play with."

In 2006 his team finished 6-6, which sent expectations through the roof in 2007, especially considering he returned most of his key players from the successful campaign the year before.

The 2007 season started with a 23-14 win at Iowa State. That victory was Kent State's second win all-time over a BCS conference school.

Then disaster struck.

Quarterback Julian Edelman suffered a knee injury in the second game of the season, a 56-20 loss at Kentucky. Edelman played-although he wasn't as effective as he was before the injury--six more games before being lost for the season with a broken arm. He wasn't replaced by back-up Anthony Magazu, as Magazu had injured his ankle earlier in the season. Instead, it was true freshman Giorgio Morgan that took over under center.

Morgan completed 18-of-28 passes for 247 yards and three scores in his first start, a 41-32 loss to eventual Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan. His freshman season ended the next week when he injured his knee at Northern Illinois.

Fourth-stringer Jon Brown started the next game and threw four interceptions in a 24-14 loss at Temple. Magazu ended the season at quarterback with a 30-23 loss to Buffalo. In all, four different quarterbacks started games for the Golden Flashes.

It wasn't just the offense that suffered through injuries.

The defense had its fair share too. Safety Fritz Jacques and Williams both played through injuries and linebacker Stevon Moss missed plenty of action with a hamstring pull.

Like 2007, the 2008 season began with high expectations. After all, Edelman returned to lead the offense along with the nation's returning leading rusher in junior Eugene Jarvis. Jameson Konz, the fastest and most athletic player on the roster, moved from linebacker to tight end and in camp he looked to be an NFL prospect.

Defensively, the Flashes added sophomore linebacker Cobrani Mixon, a Michigan transfer, and returned all-MAC performer Derek Burrell.

But again injuries ravaged the team.

Konz hurt his ankle in the 21-0 loss to Boston College in week one and it was recently announced he'd be out for the season when it was discovered he had torn ligaments in the ankle. Sophomore Jon Simpson has performed well in Konz's absence. He has six catches for 70 yards and one touchdown so far this season.

"Jon Simpson is playing his best football since Jameson Konz went out," Martin said. "We really haven't missed much of a beat right there. He's one guy that's taken the opportunity. We've just got to keep going, but the injuries have obviously been a problem around here for a long time.""

Jarvis suffered an ankle injury in week three and hasn't played since. His return is in doubt considering he has yet to practice or even run on the ankle since the injury. By the time he's healthy enough to return, it might be best to apply for a medical redshirt as the team will do with Konz. What the team does in the next few weeks might dictate that action.

Not to be outdone by the offense, the defense has lost its share of key personnel.

Two starting linebackers-Cedrick Maxwell and Mixon-were injured in last week's 41-20 loss at Ball State. Maxwell broke his shinbone, and because it's a non-weight bearing bone he could return in as few as two to three weeks. Mixon is done for the year with a broken bone in his foot.

Unlike in years past, the Golden Flashes have been able to overcome its injuries, at least on offense. Even with the shutout against Boston College, the Flashes average nearly 20 points per game.

In place of Jarvis, the Golden Flashes have used sophomore Andre Flowers and true freshman Jacquise Terry. The duo has combined to rush 33 times for 154 yards in the two games Jarvis hasn't played. Edelman has been even better, rushing 37 times for 206 yards and four scores the past two weeks.

"We miss Eugene but our other running backs are playing well," Martin said. "I think Julian obviously gives us a threat back there running the ball at the quarterback position. Andre Flowers ran really well for us. We played Jacquise Terry, the freshman back, who really gave us a little spark there Saturday at Ball State. We're pretty high on him."

Defensively, it might be more difficult to replace Mixon and Maxwell, who rank third and fifth respectively on the team in tackles. It's expected that junior Anthony Mirando and sophomores Dorian Wood, who saw his freshman season cut short by a knee injury, and Howard Bowens will see plenty of action.

"We've still got guys that have played," Martin said. "Dorian Wood has played a lot of football, and he'll step up and play well. He's played a lot this year. Derek Burrell has obviously been playing a lot."

Injuries are part of football; every team has to overcome them at some point in the season. For Kent State, that time is now-the start of the MAC East schedule. Fortunately, the Golden Flashes have the depth to play competitive football. Winning games is a taller order.

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