KENT: An unprecedented season of success often yields high acclaim, and that’s exactly what happened Wednesday when the Golden Flashes earned two of the Mid-American Conference’s top postseason honors as well as nine All-Mid-American Conference selections — the most since the 1987 season.
The two big awards went to coach Darrell Hazell and junior kick returner Dri Archer. Hazell was tabbed as the MAC Coach of the Year and Archer was honored as the MAC’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
Archer was also one of nine players to earn All-MAC honors, and was joined by senior left tackle Brian Winters (Hudson) and junior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix on the first team.
In his second season at KSU after seven seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio State, Hazell orchestrated a dramatic turnaround at a program known for decades of futility.
When the Flashes finished last season winning four of their last five games, it was obvious things were headed in the right direction. But few could have predicted the kind of success that followed this season.
Under Hazell’s guidance, KSU (11-1, 8-0 MAC) lost only to Kentucky in the second week of the season and has won a program-best 10 games in a row.
The Flashes are currently ranked No. 17 in the BCS standings heading into Friday’ MAC Championship game in Detroit against Northern Illinois. A win there could vault the Flashes into a BCS Bowl.
“I didn’t have a timeline in mind about how long it might take to get the program where it needs to be,” said Hazell, whose team is just one of five current FBS teams to have won 15 of its past 17 games. “But the one thing I always say is that in my second year, wherever I’ve been, I’ve been a better coach.”
Playing three positions — kick returner, running back and receiver —Archer earned two spots on the first team, as a running back and a kick return specialist.
Archer, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound speedster, returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his first five games and leads the nation with a 38.2 average on 15 returns. As a running back, he averaged 9.7 yards per carry and finished with 1,337 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He bested the KSU single-season touchdown record by three with 21 touchdowns.
“The guy’s an absolute game-changer,” Hazell said. “Every time he’s on the field, he can change the game.”
Both Winters and Nix are on their third consecutive all-conference team. Nix is Kent State’s first three-time first-team member since Astron Whatley in 1995-1997. Nix has 5½ sacks, 14 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. At 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, Winters anchors the offensive line.
Next to Winters at left guard is senior Josh Kline, who earned second-team honors.
“I think that’s where our success on offense starts, with those guys up front,” Hazell said. “Especially with Brian, he’s been so solid and consistent. Once we moved Josh Kline and put those two together, they’ve been the most consistent guys we’ve had on the offensive side.”
Joining Kline on the second team are senior middle linebacker Luke Batton (Nordonia) and junior safety Luke Wollet. Batton, whose 119 tackles rank fifth in the league, earned all-conference honors for the second consecutive season. Wollet, also a two-time All-MAC honoree, leads the Flashes with four interceptions and has 99 tackles.
Defensively, seniors C.J. Malauulu and Jake Dooley were named to the third team. A repeat selection at linebacker, Malauulu has 66 tackles, two forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown. Dooley has a team-high 6½ sacks along with a fumble recovery and 38 tackles.
Also on the third team is sophomore tailback Trayion Durham. Durham has rushed for 1,176 yards and 14 touchdowns, tying the record for the second-most rushing touchdowns in a season at Kent State. Known as “the Closer,” Durham is especially effective in the fourth quarter, when he averages 6.7 yards per carry.
For fans who aren’t making the trip to Detroit on Friday to cheer on the Flashes in the MAC Championship game, there’s still a way to be a part of the support team.
The KSU Alumni Association is hosting watch parties across the country in areas with large populations of Flashes alumni including: Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Raleigh, N.C.; Tampa, Fla.; and Washington, D.C.
For fans in Ohio, multiple watch parties have been planned. Log onto www.ksualumni.org/footballgamewatch to see where you can be among other fellow KSU football supporters.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.