By George M. Thomas
Beacon Journal sports writer
DETROIT: What Kent State football players face in the upcoming season is all a matter of perspective, judging from comments from two of the team’s stars.
Kent State completed a remarkable 11-3 season and went undefeated in the Mid-American Conference regular season, falling to Northern Illinois in a nail-biter of a championship game. With success comes notoriety, all-purpose offensive weapon Dri Archer said.
“There’s definitely a target on our back as a team,” he said. “Usually, we’re the team that’s always trying to get up there, but now we’re the team that’s on top of the hill and we’ve got that target on our back and everyone’s going to try to knock us off.”
But reality can sting like a bucket of cold water to the face. This year’s: Kent State is picked to finish no better than third place in the conference’s East Division.
“I wouldn’t call it a target. I just think a lot of people don’t respect us yet,” defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix said. “They just think it was one of those good years. We’ll definitely have to bring it again to solidify our name in the conference. Just doing it again would definitely let people know we were here to stay.”
Kent State is in a year of transition after coach Paul Haynes arrived to fill the shoes of Darrell Hazell, who left for the top job at Purdue. Haynes is attempting to continue Kent’s ascension to the top of the MAC. After landing at the top last year, the Flashes don’t want to go back down.
“We don’t want to maintain, we want to get better,” Archer said. “Guys have worked harder than ever since I’ve been here and we’re going to be ready.”
And they don’t plan to allow a coaching change to disrupt that.
“This is my third head coach so I was just going into it with an open mind. Coach Haynes is a great guy, and the staff he brought in, they’re all good coaches,” Nix said. “You just open yourself up to trust the fact that there is a new coach and you’ve got a new scheme and there is going to be new things. You just have to adapt to it.”
Nix and Archer are without a doubt focused on the upcoming season, but as a byproduct of their success last year, they’ve garnered some national attention.
Nix has been added to four awards watch lists (Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Outland Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Trophy).
“It’s definitely an honor,” he said. “To hear the stories of the men who played and why the awards were named after them. It’s definitely an honor to be on those watch lists and just to play under that title is just a great feeling.”
Archer matched his teammate with four of his own — Walter Camp Award, Paul Hornung Award, Maxwell Award and the Doak Walker Award.
“There was a lot of buzz going around, but it was definitely a great feeling to be recognized for my level of play. Not too many guys can say that ever,” Archer said.
MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher addressed the reporters at MAC Media Day before the start of player interviews, hitting on a number of issues.
He revealed that the issue of miscellaneous expense money — a plan where college athletes would get a stipend — isn’t necessarily dead.
When asked about the current structure of 13 teams in two divisions, Steinbrecher said that he has little problem with the unbalanced nature of the current situation, adding that any team added to the conference would have to be the right fit.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.