KENT — What a difference a spring has made for the Kent State football program.

After spending the bulk of their March and April practice sessions in 2018 installing new systems on both sides of the ball just a few months after hiring a new coach, the Golden Flashes hit the practice fields this spring with a firm knowledge of what’s expected out of them from Sean Lewis and his staff in year two.

“It’s been a lot more enjoyable than last spring, just because the kids have a greater understanding of what we’re looking for,” Lewis said. “We’re really able to dive a little bit deeper into our concepts and what we’re getting after. Last year, we made all of the changes, new offense and new defense. Now we can get into the how and why we do what we do.”

The Flashes also entered spring 2019 with an established player at the most critical position on the field.

Junior Woody Barrett was a highly touted yet unproven transfer competing for Kent State’s starting quarterback job last spring. After completing a school-record 229 passes for 2,339 yards in 2018, his first year directing the up-tempo offense installed by Lewis, Barrett has been able to dive deeper into the playbook and focus more on leading the team this spring.

“For us to have the luxury of having Woody and [junior backup Dustin] Crum, we feel very fortunate to have depth at [the quarterback] position,” Lewis said. “Their growth has been great because there’s a foundation that’s been laid, and now we’re starting to get to some next-level stuff.”

Barrett, like Kent State as a whole, was brilliant at times but inconsistent overall in 2018. When the Flashes were on, they were able to play with some of the toughest teams on their schedule (Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Akron). But they wound up winning just two of 12 games, and losing five times by 22 points or more.

“The biggest thing we need to improve is the consistency of play in all three phases,” Lewis said heading into Saturday's spring game. “There were moments and glimmers last year in our first season when we’re clicking defensively, special teams and offensively, and our fan base and community and university got to see and feel what ‘FlashFast’ football is all about."

The Flashes averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry and 172 yards per game on the ground last year, and have leading rusher Jo-El Shaw (657 yards, seven touchdowns, 4.8 yards per carry) back for his senior year. A running back who has emerged during the spring is Xavier Williams, a 5-foot-9, 186-pound sophomore who provides a nice complement to the 230-pound Shaw.

The offensive line has been bolstered by the return of junior right tackle Adam Gregoire, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in preseason camp last year.

The Flashes return their top five wide receivers from last season, and senior Kavious Price has been the star of spring camp.

On the defensive side, Lewis believes senior outside linebacker Nick Faulkner is primed for a big year after putting up modest numbers in 2018 (36 tackles, five for loss).

“He didn’t play last spring because he was coming off knee surgery. He was a productive player last year, but now after going through the full lifting cycle you can tell he’s got more confidence,” Lewis said.

Junior linebacker Kesean Gamble and senior end Theo Majette have been limited in spring drills due to offseason surgery, but both are expected back for preseason camp.

Junior Mandela Lawrence-Burke, the team’s second-leading tackler in 2017 as a safety who missed most of last season due to injury, has been moved to linebacker.