KENT: Despite celebrating his 48th birthday over the weekend, Kent State football coach Darrell Hazell still made time to review video footage from Saturday’s jersey scrimmage twice.
One of the biggest impressions he came away with after viewing the tape dominated by the Golden Flashes’ defense was that Roosevelt Nix is a “freak of nature.”
That’s certainly not news to Flashes fans who’ve watched Nix, a junior defensive lineman, tear up opposing offenses since 2010, when he was honored as the Mid-American Conference’s Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year, but it’s still high praise from the head coach.
“He’s just a freak,” Hazell said. “I mean, I watched him the other day when we tried to single-block him. The guy was barely out of his stance and Rosie was already hip-to-hip with the guy. He’s just so quick out of his stance.”
Hazell also pointed to Nix’s hand placement, his low pad level and, perhaps most important for the upcoming season, his health.
“He looks healthy to me,” Hazell said. “Last year, Rosie looked like he was always concerned about [his dislocated big toe]. But Saturday and throughout spring, he’s looked healthy. Hopefully, we can get him through this last week without aggravating it more and then get him some rest.”
Right after he uttered those words, Hazell caught himself and quickly knocked on his wooden desk to keep from jinxing the team’s standout defender.
If it weren’t for Nix’s lack of height, (he’s probably closer to 5-foot-10 than his listed 6-foot) he would have never played at Kent State in the first place.
“Rosie’s a guy who, if you don’t scheme up ways of tricking or double-teaming him, he’s gonna make a play in your backfield,” Hazell said. “Saturday, Rosie was in midseason form. He’s one of the most productive defensive linemen I’ve ever been around — everywhere I’ve been.”
That’s saying a lot for a coach who came to Kent State after a seven-year stint at Ohio State.
“With guys like him, it’s all about projection,” Hazell said. “Coming out of high school, he was smaller than most players at his position. Good thing for us, because I’m sure glad we got him.”
For top-level programs, guys like Nix are easily overlooked for guys with more prototypical size for the position.
But what projections often leave out are determination, attitude and hard work — the kind of blue-collar traits that have garnered Nix back-to-back first team All-MAC selections.
With two full seasons to go, Nix is already sixth among KSU career sack leaders with 14.5 and ninth with 37 tackles for loss. If not for the toe injury suffered during the first week of preseason camp, Nix probably would have put up better numbers than his team-leading 17 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He was second on the team with 4.5 sacks.
“I don’t like to blame things on injuries,” said Nix, a native of Reynoldsburg, a suburb of Columbus. “But last year with the toe, there were a lot of times where I wasn’t 100 percent. But I played as best as I could. I felt that as long as my presence was being felt, it didn’t matter if the numbers were there. During the last couple games of the season, my numbers weren’t there. But we were winning and I was fine with that. I’m not a selfish player.”
At the beginning of spring camp, Nix said the foot felt “pretty much back to normal.” But he admitted that planting on it often still causes pain.
“I don’t know if it’s ever going to be 100 percent, but I rest it when I can,” Nix said. “In the end, this is like a job to me and you owe it to the guys around you to just keep pushing.”
Nix isn’t outspoken, but he leads the Flashes’ defense with his style of play.
“He’s a leader in his own quiet way,” Hazell said. “You’ll hear him chirp up once in awhile, but that’s not who he is. But if you watch his play, that’s where you see Rosie’s leadership skills.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Flashes blog at www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.