KENT: By the time it’s all said and done, Kent State offensive lineman Brian Winters could have a nice little side job in Mobile, Ala., if he so chose.
Two weeks ago, Winters, a senior left tackle, was part of a small school contingent that visited the town in preparation for the Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com Bowl, where the No. 25-ranked Golden Flashes (11-2) will take on Arkansas State (9-3).
Twenty days after the bowl is played, Winters will make a third trip to Mobile — this time without his teammates — as one of a select few seniors across the nation invited to play in the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“Last time I was in town they joked with me that I could be an ambassador for Mobile,” Winters said with a laugh.
But after schmoozing it up and enjoying fancy meals during the first trip, the next two trips to Mobile are work related.
The bowl game is the first for Kent State in 40 years and will likely be emotional as coach Darrell Hazell’s final game at Kent State before he moves on to take over at Purdue.
Three weeks later comes the Senior Bowl in front of NFL scouts, a showing that could go a long way in determining where Winters could be taken in the NFL Draft.
“Is there anyone else from the MAC in the Senior Bowl?” Winters asked. When told that he was the conference’s lone representative, the gravity of the situation seemed to hit him.
“That’s crazy, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, I’ve worked so hard for a long time. But still, the Senior Bowl is a huge honor.”
Winters, a Hudson native, has spent his entire football career playing the non-glamorous role of an offensive lineman, beginning when he was in the fourth grade.
“I was always a big kid so I was on the line from Day One,” he said. “I played a little defensive end in high school, but it’s been all offense ever since.”
Winters said he had other scholarship offers out of high school, but chose KSU for two reasons: the ability to be shaped into a pro prospect while turning around the fortunes of the team.
“I thought it’s where I’d get the best coaching to help me become a better player,” Winters said. “But I also wanted to be a part of changing the culture at Kent State and helping turn the program into a winner.”
In addition to setting new milestones on the field this season, members of the football team proved to be just as successful in the classroom by combining for the highest in-season grade point average in recorded program history (since 1982) with 45 players carrying a GPA of 3.0 or better.
“I am very proud that our guys did not get distracted by such a great season,” Talea Drummer, KSU’s athletic academic counselor for football, said in a statement. “This shows they are truly ‘A’ players on and off the field.”
Eighteen football players made the Dean’s List (3.4 GPA or higher) and freshman Jordan Italiano (Canfield) landed on the President’s List with a 4.0 GPA.
“The entire coaching staff emphasizes academics,” Drummer said. “The players are coming in a lot more anytime they have a question or concern.”
Junior Dri Archer was honored last week as a Walter Camp All-America First Teamer as a kick returner. Although other KSU players have garnered All-America honors, Archer is the program’s first Walter Camp All-American, the nation’s oldest organization for such an honor.
Archer will bring an NCAA-best 38.2 yards per kick return average into the GoDaddy.com Bowl in a little less than two weeks, while his three kick return touchdowns are tied for the most in the nation.
Following such a standout season, Archer is weighing his options of staying for his senior seasons or possibly leaving a year early to declare for the NFL Draft.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I get questions every day about it,” Archer said. “But I haven’t really made a decision yet. When I go home [to Florida] for the holiday break, I’ll sit down and talk with my mom about it.”
Asked if the departure of Hazell could play into his decision, Archer admitted it might.
“You gotta do what you gotta do, but coach Hazell leaving definitely plays a big part in it,” he said. “If he would have stayed, my decision would be a whole lot easier. But now, we’ll just see what happens.”
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 http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.