KENT: Kent State enters the football season knowing one thing for sure: Replacing two standouts in the heart of the defense is not going to be an easy task — even with the return of sophomore standout Roosevelt Nix.
Although Nix, last season’s Mid-American Conference’s Defensive and Freshman Player of the Year, returns for his sophomore season to help anchor the defensive line, the Golden Flashes’ secondary will initially depend on the front seven to give them a little time to settle in.
“The defense is going to be really good,” KSU first-year coach Darrell Hazell said. “The front is outstanding and really pushes the pocket.”
Rather than ask one player to make up for the loss of graduating seniors and safety Brain Lainhart and linebacker Cobrani Mixon, new safeties coach Jeff Burrow is going with the team approach.
How does Burrow expect the Flashes to fill the void in the secondary?
“As a group,” he said. “No one person is bigger than the team. We believe in team defense. We don’t have any all-stars; the closest we have is Rosie [Nix]. So the rest of us are just a bunch of no-names. We want to be accountable to that front seven. They’re doing their jobs and they depend on us to do ours.”
While returning senior defensive backs Norman Wolfe and Josh Pleasant give the Flashes experience on the outside, the job on the inside will fall to lesser-seasoned players.
“I was behind Brian all last year and he lived with me in the summer,” said sophomore safety Luke Wollet. “He always told me I don’t have to be Brian Lainhart, just be Luke Wollet.”
But that advice might be easier said than done.
“The biggest challenge I’ve found is that there’s actually a bigger adjustment going from freshman to sophomore year in college than going from high school to freshman year because last year I was a role player,” Wollet said. “This year, I have to step up and be a leader, so it’s been a little tough for me. I mean, last year Brian knew Mike’s position [middle linebacker] and he would tell people where to go. Now I gotta be the guy to tell people where to go.”
But having the rare opportunity to play some last season as a freshman should make for an easier transition this year when the Flashes open the season Sept. 3 at No. 2-ranked Alabama.
“It helped that I played in five, six games last year, including starting one at Bowling Green,” said Wollet, who had a game-high 10 tackles and an interception against the Falcons. “It gave me confidence to know I could go out there and have a good game and have a good idea of where to tell people where to go.”
Fifth-year senior Brian Hummer, junior Sidney Saulter and sophomore Darius Polk all saw limited action last year on defense and special teams, but will be counted on to be key contributors in the defensive backfield this year.
“As long as they come out there with a disciplined state of mind — ‘I’m not going to let the guy next to me down,’ we’ll get where we want to be,” Burrows said. “I want them to stay hungry. Never be satisfied with a good play and never let them [get down]. Just stay consistent.”
Wolfe is confident the group will grow to impress quickly.
“We’ll be running fast and covering a lot of ground,” he said. “We want to show the world we can play.”
It’s a good thing three KSU freshmen running backs — Robert Hollomon, Trayion Durham and Anthony Meray — are having such a good preseason camp.
That’s because the status of the upperclassmen of the ground group — senior Jacquise Terry and junior Dri Archer — is in jeopardy.
Terry suffered a shoulder injury in Saturday’s jersey scrimmage. Although he practiced some Monday, he’s still pretty banged up. It’s also been learned that Archer will likely miss the season due to academic reasons.
“We’ve got a lot of different options at running back,” junior quarterback Spencer Keith said. “They’ve really stepped up in camp. That’s exciting for our team because if we run the ball well, [opponents] will start putting more people in the box and that allows us to beat them on the outside.”