After the Blue team defeated the gold team 34-27 in Kent State’s kick scrimmage Saturday morning at Dix Stadium, the players were pleasantly surprised to learn they were getting their 2012 championship rings from winning the Mid-American Conference East Division title last season.
"It's something new for me," said KSU defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix. "My high school team wasn't very good, so this is the first piece of hardware I've ever received. I probably will never wear it. I'll put it away someplace safe. It means a lot to me."
Seated in the team meeting room at Dix Stadium, each player was called up one by one to accept their ring from new coach Paul Haynes.
“Congratulations, but he humble about it,” Haynes said after every player had in hand a small white box with the ring nestled inside. “Now, let’s do it again!”
That wasn’t just lip service from Haynes, who has his championship rings on display in his office.
“I have like, 12 or 13 of them,” he said. “I’ve been blessed. The ones that are most special are my high school rings. My high school basketball ring is in there, but I’m missing my high school football ring. I was fortunate to win state in both basketball and football.”
Haynes said he’s pretty sure his prep football ring is somewhere at his mother’s home.
“When I was over her house one time I was looking in this little pot of coins she has,” Haynes said. “I was looking in there and it was in there. So every time I go home, I look at them.”
After his high school rings, the first ring Haynes won while serving as an assistant coach at Ohio State has special meaning to him.
“That was the first BCS game that we were in,” he said. “It was special.”
HARD WORK PAYS OFF – There was a touching moment just before the rings were passed out when Haynes singled out former walk-on defensive end Anthony Christopher. As he asked the senior from Chardon to meet him at the podium, Haynes announced to the team that Christopher had earned a scholarship.
The result was a few tears in Christopher’s eyes and a thundering round of applause from his teammates.
“I’ve only been around him a short period of time and it’s amazing, because I already thought he was on scholarship,” Haynes said. “I had no idea that he wasn’t and was surprised. But you can by the reaction and applause from the team that he deserved it. They have a ton of respect for him.”
Haynes said that before former coach Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, something was in the works to put Christopher on scholarship. But when he left, five or six of his teammates went to defensive coordinator Brian George (who stayed on with Haynes staff) to talk with him about ensuring Christopher still got the scholarship offer.
“That shows you the tremendous respect (Christopher) has from this team,” Haynes said. “He’s played for us and been on every special unit, which to me, is more important than a guy who just plays on offense or defense. He’s been here so long as a walk on, he gives so much effort and puts his heart into every day that it’s well earned.”
The amount of love Christopher received from his teammates took Haynes by surprise.
“I didn’t expect that,” he said. “In talking with coach George, I knew a lot of guys wanted it, but sometimes you just get that from your side of the ball, the D-line. But it was guys from the whole team, which was awesome.
“To me, it’s exactly what your walk-on program is about. You have guys like (Christopher) who come in, work hard and are dedicated and you can reward them their last year before they get out of here.”
GETTING BETTER – Haynes said he’s especially liked what he’s seen from his new players, especially over their last two practices.
“They’ve been the best two practices of the spring,” he said. “Their energy level has been great. It’s been cold and rainy the other day, but we didn’t let it bother us. The intensity was awesome, it exactly what you want to see.”