KENT: Finally, it’s almost time to hit someone else.
If for nothing other than the opportunity to face an opponent other than their own teammates, the Kent State football team is anxious to get the 2012 season under way Thursday night when it hosts Towson at Dix Stadium in a game that will be televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN3.
Towson is a member of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.
“The long-awaited season is finally upon us,” KSU coach Darrell Hazell said Monday in the first of his weekly news conferences. “We’re excited to get started and anxious to see our football team play, as they’ve been beating on each other for the last three-and-a-half weeks.”
The Golden Flashes are looking forward to going against someone wearing a different jersey.
“[During camp] you’re out there trying to be physical and prepare yourself for game-like situations, but it’s your teammates out there, your family, so can’t really take ’em out because you need them for the game to win,” senior linebacker Luke Batton said. “So it gets pretty frustrating after awhile, not doing the natural thing of just laying into somebody.”
With all of KSU’s position battles wrapped up following Hazell’s announcement Monday morning that freshman Anthony Melchiori (Aurora) earned the starting nod at punter over sophomore Andrew Horning (Stow), the team spent the afternoon practicing in the rain with all minds focused on Towson.
Although the game against the Tigers doesn’t present the same kind of overwhelming challenge that last year’s season opener at Alabama did, facing Towson isn’t necessarily a guaranteed win.
It’s a game the Flashes need to win against an opponent coming from a lesser level of play. That’s why Hazell went as far Monday as to call the need for a win Thursday “critically important for the program.”
“This game is huge because if we play the way we’re capable of playing, it could vault us into another level,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, and that’s no disrespect to Towson. I just think this first game is [mentally] critical for the success of our season.”
After a 1-6 start last season, the Flashes won four of their last five games. Senior offensive lineman Brian Winters (Hudson) expects a better start this season.
“I believe everyone’s more focused this year,” said Winters, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound left tackle who has drawn the attention of NFL scouts. “Last year was a buy-in year to the coaches, really. It wasn’t until the end of the season that we started winning games. [Now], everyone’s on board, everyone’s a lot more confident. Everyone’s tired of the old attitude and how we played before.”
Those are the kind of comments that lead Hazell and his staff to believe the Flashes are ready to turn the corner and finally become a team to be reckoned with in the Mid-American Conference.
“I love the maturity of this football team and their attention to detail,” he said. “Their preparation has been outstanding since the day we reported to camp on Aug. 2.”
Goode a no-go
Hazell announced Monday that senior Tyshon Goode will not play in Thursday’s opener. Goode, the team’s top receiving target, injured his left hamstring on the first day of practice and has not practiced since.
“The hamstring’s coming along and has made significant progress, but we’re going to be smart about it,” Hazell said. “There’s probably a good chance he’ll be back for the [Sept. 8] game at Kentucky.”
Ready to step in
With Goode out, senior wide receiver Eric Adeyemi will get more time in the slot as well as his usual punt and kick return duties.
“I was very concerned about him early in camp but he’s really made some huge strides in the last seven to 10 days,” said Hazell, who recently addressed the situation with Adeyemi in his office one-on-one. “I told him, ‘I don’t know what it was, what hit your switch, but I like who you are now as opposed to where you were two-and-a-half weeks ago.’ He’s playing with a lot more energy. You can see there’s a passion there now and he’s making more plays for us.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at https://ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.