Kent State’s special teams experienced resurgence under former coach Darrell Hazell, a trend new coach Paul Haynes looks to continue.
“How many games have you watched where special teams changes the game?” Haynes said. “That’s why it’s so important, and we’re putting a huge emphasis on it.”
So much so, Haynes took a page out of former boss Jim Tressel’s coaching book, naming each special team’s units after military units, just to have the pride in each unit.
Thus, KSU’s punt team is referred to as the SEALs, the punt return unit is the Rangers, the kickoff is called RECON and the kickoff return team is Delta.
“We’ll even have guys from each of those military units speak to our players about the pride that they have in their unit,” Haynes said. “When I was at Ohio State I was in charge of one of the units and our guys really bought into the tradition of those units and could recite what it meant to them. You could see it transfer over to the field that they really cared.”
During winter conditioning, a handful of KSU ROTC members kicked off the team’s military theme by agreeing to come speak to the Flashes.
“A couple of them had been on three or four tours and they were nervous to come in and talk because they didn’t know what reception they would have,” Haynes said. “But it’s a privilege for our guys to play this game, and that’s because we have a blanket of protection that those guys give us. Our players need to understand that.”
Haynes said he’s also reaching out to some “wounded warriors to come talk to our guys” to further drive home the point of the lengths military soldiers go to protect the country.
SETTLING IN – It’s been almost four months since Haynes, a former Flashes walk-on defensive back who spent the last 20 years as an assistant coach, took over at Kent State as head coach. He admitted Saturday that while he’s finally settling in, he still has his moments.
There have been times during spring practice when he feels he should “hold a meeting” or be “going and grabbing a position” player during a teachable moment on the field.
But he’s learning to leave those moments to his assistant coaches with so many other duties he must handle as the top guy.
“I remember talking with (University of Tennessee coach) Butch Jones and other first-time head coaches, and you just start thinking about everything,” Haynes said. “Every single thing – making sure it’s covered, making sure things are done right…You hope you’re doing things the right way, but you never know until the end result. It still comes down to wins and losses.”
STAFF MESHING – Not only are all the Flashes players getting to know each other better during spring practice, but there’s been a feeling out process among the coaching staff as well.
“We have a great staff and their really starting to come together,” Haynes said. “And that’s good because we hard guys that were here together before and a bunch of new guys that have to all learn how to work together. And it’s meshing; it’s meshing really well.
“I’m impressed with what they’re doing, with their leadership and their teaching skills. It’s really coming along and makes it easy for me that I can relay on those guys to take care of (individual unit meetings) and I can take care of kissing babies and shaking hands.”
Haynes was clearly joking about that last part. No doubt he’s already done his fair share of reaching out to the community, but his bloodshot eyes give away the fact that he’s working long hours daily as he settles into his first head coaching position with his alma mater.
UP NEXT –The Flashes have two more practices this week on Wednesday and Friday mornings followed by a jersey scrimmage Saturday at 9:30 a.m. that pits the offense against the defense against each other for the right to wear the coveted blue jerseys the rest of the year. The team’s spring game is a week later, on April 27, at Dix Stadium at 6 p.m.