On the defensive side of the ball for the Flashes, head coach Dean Pees (15-47, sixth year) is acting as defensive coordinator as well as head coach for the first time and the position is the one he held at Michigan State prior to his hiring at Kent State as head coach. The coach has changed the look from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with mixed results, having won three times in the first six games but surrendering 176 points in those games, almost 30 per contest.
The switch to the 3-4 will allow Kent to use their deep linebacker corps better, as well as hopefully putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with different blitzes. The group includes senior Anthony Henriquez (5-11, 235, team leading 55 tackles, 22 solos) and junior Eric Mahl (6-2, 245, 53 tackles, 23 solos) on the inside. Both missed more than half of last season with injuries, but Henriquez led Kent State in tackles in 2001 with 101 total.
On the outside, two new comers have stepped into starting roles. Sophomore Justin Parrish (6-2, 240, 24 tackles) started at "Buck-OLB" and now is the starting end. He had one start and 34 tackles in 2002. The new "Buck" outside linebacker is junior Damian Stolowski (6-2, 235, 12 tackles). Junior Antonio King (6-1, 215, 20 tackles), who has moved from running back last season, is now the "Sam." Also in the mix are sophomore Jon Sessler (6-2, 240), senior Jeff Jensen (6-3, 240) and sophomore Marcus Robinson (6-2, 250).
Up front on the defensive line, fifth year starter Alan Williams (6-2, 280) was moved to second team end and now back to tackle, his starting position the last two years. Junior Delvin Barker (6-0, 260, team leading six tackles-for-loss and three sacks) is now starting at tackle, along side of sophomore Daniel Muir (6-2, 255, 24 tackles and 4.5 t-f-l), who started last season at tackle. The others in the mix at end is red-shirt freshman Bruce Rice (6-1, 250), who sat out last year. The other tackle in the mix is fifth year senior Tom Crock (6-3, 270) who was the team's Outstanding Defensive Lineman in 2002, despite not being a starter.
In the secondary, junior free safety Shannon Davis (6-0, 195, third on team with 45 tackles and leader with 26 solos and two interceptions) is the lone returning starter. Davis is on the Jim Thorpe watch list, among the nation's best defensive backs and had a team-leading 86 tackles in 2002, along with two interceptions and eight pass breakups.
The strong safety is a junior, Vashawn Patrick (5-11, 200), who was a player as both the nickel back and on special teams last season. Behind both Davis and Patrick is senior Desmond Turner (5-11, 190) who can play either position. The cornerbacks are young, starting with freshman Usama Young (5-11, 185, two interceptions), the Football Writer's National Player of the Week verses UCF (two interceptions and two fumbles recovered in the eight take-away game against the Knights, and sophomore Barry Drakeford (5-11, 185, four tackles-for-loss and six passes broken up). Young is a true freshman, while Drakeford sat out due to eligibility guidelines. Backing up the corner is senior Ray Coley (6-0, 200) and sophomore Tyrell McElroy (5-11, 180).
Special teams returns a Freshman All-American in placekicker Travis Mayle (6-0, 180), who was honorable mention on the rivals.com frosh team. Mayle hit on 12-of-14 field goals, including a long of 42 yards, and made 22-of-24 extra-point attempts. He is on the Lou Groza watch list for the nation's top kickers, and has hit 12-12 on PATs and 11-15 on field goals, with a long of 46 but with two blocked.
Sophomore Joshua Brazen (5-11, 185) is the punter (37/37.5 ypp), after red-shirting in 2001 and backing up Jared Fritz in 2002. He had averaged almost 39 yards per punt through four games in 2003. Freshman Josh Heyne (5-11, 200) is handling kickoffs for Kent State.
The return men are backup free safety Jon Drager (6-0, 195), a true freshman bringing back punts (14/103/7.4 yppr). Kickoff returns are in the hands of outside linebacker Antonio King (8/199/24.9 ypkor), along with flanker Darrell Dowery and Drager. The long snapper is a third year starter, senior Jerami Hodgkinson (5-7, 210), and the holder is "H" back/quarterback Antwan Smith.
Kent State will finish the season with UConn coming in next weekend, followed by a home game with MAC East Division leader Miami, then at Ohio (Nov. 8) and at Bowling Green (Nov. 15) before closing the season at Dix Stadium with Buffalo (Nov. 22) on Senior and Fan Appreciation Day.