KENT: It was early August, just the first day of Kent State football’s two-a-day practices.
The Golden Flashes were finishing up their dinners on the second floor of the student center.
Bloodshot eyes were evident for many of the 100 players in camp — as well as some of the coaching staff — an indication of how much time and energy was being put into preparation for the season.
The Flashes wouldn’t play a game for some time, the opener being weeks away at the time but now just days away with the Flashes set to play against Liberty University at Dix Stadium on Thursday.
Player building, team building, program building: All was under construction.
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That August day already had included two practices, each running one hour and 45 minutes.
After finishing dinner, the players and coaches made their way over to a large classroom in the M.A.C. Center gym annex for a final 8 p.m. team meeting.
First on the agenda was guest speaker Logan Vance. He served in Afghanistan in 2007 and Iraq in 2009 as a member of the Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion; he also is a Kent State student.
Flashes coach Paul Haynes, in his first year, introduced Vance as coming from “THE Kent State University,” taking a cue from his time as a longtime assistant defensive coach at Ohio State.
Like previous coach Darrell Hazell, Haynes shares an affinity for the men and women who serve their country. Thus, Haynes continued Hazell’s implementation of naming the Flashes special teams units after military units: The punt team is named after SEALs, the punt return after the Rangers, the kickoff team is known as Recon and the kickoff return team is Delta.
Vance, sharply dressed in a grayish-silver vest, dress pants and a long-sleeved white button-down shirt, looked more suited for a wedding reception than speaking to a classroom full of young college football players. A dapper native of Ashtabula, he held the team’s rapt attention while discussing professionalism and striving to be the best.
“I know this is the first of two-a-days and you’re tired and the day is wearing on you,” Vance said in a loud, commanding voice. “I too know what it’s like to be out in the hot sun two days at a time. Only difference is, we got shot at and you guys get tackled.
“… I went overseas so that every single one of you — men and women — can sit here. I choose to do that just like you choose to come here to play football. So act professional, strive to be the best and respect and represent this university with pride.”
He spoke for just 15 minutes, but it was a no-holds-barred presentation that ended with thunderous applause as he promptly exited the room as quickly as he had entered it.
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Most KSU football fans only have the chance to see their favorite players in pads during games. Few are privy to the backpack-toting student side of their lives. In addition to attending the same history, science and math classes of their non-athletic peers, KSU’s football players also study plenty of football.
After Vance’s powerful speech was a study session in which a handful of assistant coaches gave brief lectures with the aid of an overhead projector on the main points of the team’s two-minute offense and defense situations.
Wide receivers coach Doc Gamble was next. After he made his way down the steps and to the front of the room, he slapped a page on the projector screen labeled: Theory of the Two-Minute Offense.
Gamble’s outline broke down the subject into three main, albeit obvious, points: 1. Four downs to get a first down. 2. When to call for a timeout — always know where the nearest official is. 3. When the clock is stopped, huddle up.
For a majority of those who played football as far back as the peewee level, it’s obvious stuff. But with many kickers coming from soccer backgrounds, it’s never a bad idea to make sure everyone has the basics down pat so it doesn’t cost the Flashes in a game.
Gamble then explained basic clock operation — when the clock starts, when to take a timeout and ways to conserve time — before turning things over to defensive graduate assistant Eron Hodges.
“The most important part of defense is to be at your best when your best is needed,” Hodges said. “At the end of the first half and in the fourth quarter, this is when your best is needed.”
Hodges then played audio of a rallying speech by former Baltimore Ravens fiery linebacker Ray Lewis regarding team effort. The room fell silent as players listened.
After the two assistant coaches gave their brief presentations, the team’s wide receivers got out of their seats and took a turn at the front of the room. Standing in the middle of the group, junior Chris Humphrey read from a page of notes in his hand he made from the team’s 406-page Kent State’s Winner’s Manual. It came from a section titled Humility, which is part of the team’s Seven Decisions to Success.
When Humphrey finished, the receivers headed back to their seats and Haynes addressed the group momentarily.
“The point is, the buck stops here,” he said. “Take responsibility. Look in the mirror at yourself.”
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Last on the agenda before the exhausted players finally got to head back to their dorm rooms and apartments was a portion of the meeting saved for three senior speeches. All 16 seniors on the team were scheduled to make a short presentation throughout camp. They were able to read from their own notes as they stood at the front of the room and spoke to coaches and teammates.
The presentations were made up of their answers to five points: fundamental, core value, hero/winner, real issue and what playing at KSU means to me.
On this night, quarterback David Fisher, defensive back Fabrice Pratt and center Phil Huff shared willingly some rather intimate feelings and poignant life stories with their teammates.
A junior college transfer from Palomar Community College, Fisher left a close-knit circle of family and friends in California before last season. He took a big leap of faith to fly cross country to a school he hadn’t heard of until a former teammate mentioned it, all in hopes of finishing his career as a Division I quarterback.
Last season Fisher backed up returning starter Spencer Keith. This season he and redshirt freshman Colin Reardon are vying for time as the quarterback.
Speaking of the many reasons why he has been blessed to become a part of the “Kent State football family,” Fisher shared an incident about stealing in high school as part of his core value.
“I stole and I got caught,” he said. “When I saw the look on my mom’s face when she picked me up, I said right then, ‘I don’t ever want to see that look on her face again.’ ”
Then the fifth-year senior went on to explain why his mother, Phenella Adame, is his hero.
“My biological father wasn’t there for me, he had other things to worry about and got into some trouble,” Fisher said. “So my mom got us on a bus and my stepdad [Mario Adame] met us there. Since then, he’s been my hero, too. I honestly don’t think I’d be here playing Division I football without him and the discipline he gave me.”
After Pratt and Huff’s speeches, the team read together out loud an eight-line entry from a final page in the manual. When finished, they slapped their manuals closed in unison, swung out of their seats and wearily filed out of the room to head home for the night for some much-needed rest.
It would be just eight hours until the next day’s preseason camp activities would be in full swing again.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.