MOBILE, ALA.: The curtain has come down on the 2012 Kent State football season and former coach Darrell Hazell, and new coach Paul Haynes knows exactly who he wants to star in his opening act.
The first order of business for Haynes is convincing Dri Archer to remain with the Golden Flashes for an encore senior season.
Archer, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound junior, will spend the next few days contemplating the best path for his future and whether that includes declaring for the 2013 NFL Draft.
It’s a choice Archer hadn’t considered until Hazell announced shortly after the Mid-American Conference Championship Game that he was leaving KSU for Purdue and a $2 million annual salary.
Archer decided to wait until after Sunday’s 17-13 loss to Arkansas in the GoDaddy.com Bowl to really dig into the pros and cons of leaving school early, a move that gives Haynes a little time to make his case for why Archer should stay at KSU.
“I have talked to him, but I plan on talking to him when I get back,” Haynes said before Sunday’s game, “to just give my advice on what I think. Ultimately it comes down to his and his family’s decision. But I will definitely give my two cents in what I think is best for him. But with me not knowing him too well, I’m going to reach out to other people who do know him a little bit better and have them also talk to him.”
Haynes, a former KSU walk-on, was in Mobile to support his new team, but he intentionally kept a low profile. He did not want to interfere with Hazell and his staff as they were putting the final touches on a dream season that set several new program benchmarks, including a No. 25 ranking in the final regular season AP and coaches’ polls.
But before he and his new staff (which is expected to be announced at the end of the week) turn their attention to new players, Haynes’ best recruiting pitch will be directed at Archer.
“He’s a dynamic player, he’s a playmaker, he’s productive and he has to touch the ball a lot for us,” Haynes said. “What I told him when I talked to him, that in the future that’s what’s going to happen. It can’t just be kickoffs. We have to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands and not just jet sweeps so [opponents] can’t key on that. He’s too good a player to be on the sidelines or not having the ball in his hands.”
Archer clearly has the raw speed to succeed in the NFL, but he could benefit from an additional year of learning how to return punts (a skill more valued in the pros then Archer’s forte of returning kickoffs) as well as an extra year in the weight room building his physique.
But the possibility of getting hurt as a senior and potentially delaying or derailing his entry into the professional ranks is a major reason why leaving school early could appeal to him.
The thought likely crossed Archer’s mind Sunday night when he injured his knee in the second quarter and was unable to finish the game, missing time when the Flashes needed him most during their final drive.
“I landed on it on the ground in the first half and just tried to keep going,” a dejected Archer said afterwards. “I was hopping around the second half and I know I just hurt my team being out there so I just couldn’t go anymore.”
Archer, the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year and All-American, entered the bowl game with 1,352 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, 538 receiving yards and four touchdowns and 569 return yards with three kickoff returns for touchdowns.
In 202 touches, Archer had 70 plays of 10 or more yards and 39 plays for 20 yards or more.
He also led the nation in kick return average, was fifth in all-purpose yards and tied for 11th in scoring and is KSU’s single-season touchdown record-holder (23).
“He can change the game every time he touches the ball,” Hazell said. “Every time.”
Receiver Tyshon Goode, who missed the season with a hamstring injury but said he plans to return next year for his fifth and final year, sounded as if Archer would return.
“Dri should come back,” Goode said. “If not, we’ll work with what we’ve got. [But] I don’t see any indications of him entering the draft. I’m pretty sure he wants to graduate. We talked about that, and he wanted to get his diploma.”
Junior defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix (another NFL prospect) hopes Archer returns. But he said he and his teammates are trying not to pressure him so they don’t make the decision any harder on Archer.
“He’s a man,” Nix said. “He has to make the best decision for himself and his family. Nobody has impact on that but himself.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.