Stephanie Storm

KENT: Kent State football coach Darrell Hazell doesn’t recall exactly how he heard about the big kid from Cincinnati named Trayion Durham.

Hazell remembers only what came after he met Durham, a 6-foot, 260-pound bear of a running back, who had originally committed to play at Wisconsin.

“I’m not sure exactly how we got involved, if he reached out to us or what,” Hazell said. “All I know is after we’d gotten involved, a couple of other Big Ten schools tried to snipe us a little bit. In the end, he was a really good get for us.”

Hazell had recently been hired at KSU and was behind in putting together a staff and his first recruiting class. As a first-year coach, he probably shouldn’t have even had a shot at landing Durham. But Hazell and running backs coach Jafar Williams connected immediately with Durham and his family.

“I think he felt like he was being strung along at some of the other places,” Hazell said. “And he took to our coaching staff really well, as he and his dad felt really comfortable with us.”

But there was something else, too: The ability of coming to KSU and playing right away instead of sitting for a year or two behind some upperclassmen at a Big Ten school was appealing to Durham.

“That absolutely played a part,” Hazell said. “We studied the film of the guys that were in the program and we knew that [Durham] could help us right away based on what we’d seen on his film.”

As Durham, a Cincinnati Colerain product, enters his sophomore season, he appears to have a high upside after a solid freshman season.

After being eased into the running game, Durham rushed for 630 yards and four touchdowns on 186 carries in the Flashes’ last 10 games.

“He’s a bigger guy and a lot of [defenders] are afraid to tackle those big guys who can move,” Williams said. “He brought another dimension of physicality to our offense.”

Senior quarterback Spencer Keith appreciated what Durham did for the Flashes, even as a freshman.

“Tray did a good job last year and proved to be a really hard-nosed player,” Keith said. “To run the zone play a ton of times a game, he’s going to get some hits. But he really stayed in there strong. He’s built for that.”

Down to 246 pounds entering spring camp, Durham appears primed for a standout sophomore season.

“There’s already a major difference between him last year when he came in during the fall and now,” Hazell said. “It comes from him understanding what’s going on better. So now he’s playing a lot faster, especially in the passing game.

“Last year in the passing game, he was clueless. This year, you can tell Tray has a pretty good grasp of what we’re trying to do. The biggest thing that stands out to me is him getting into the routes quicker. Before, he was just kind of feeling his way through, because he wasn’t sure.”

Now that Durham has picked up a better feel for the Flashes’ offensive scheme, Hazell and his staff have their sights set on using the bruising back, who’s surprisingly light on his feet, more consistently as a dual threat.

“We’ll drop it off to him [in the passing game] in space and he’s going to have some linebackers come tackle him,” Hazell said. Then with a laugh, he added: “But he will tackle a couple guys, too.”

Stephanie Storm can be reached at sstorm@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Flashes blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/kent-state. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.