KENT: Seven weeks. That’s how long new Kent State football coach Paul Haynes and his staff had to build the Golden Flashes’ 21-member recruiting class for 2013.
“The first day we got together as a staff was Jan. 11-12, somewhere around there,” Haynes said. “So we just hit and ran. But [we] did a good job building relationships with the guys who were already committed and also searching for new guys.”
Despite the late start, Haynes, who was introduced Dec. 19, said 10 of the 11 recruits under former coach Darrell Hazell stayed in the fold once he had a chance to get out and meet them all.
Hazell announced he was leaving KSU for Purdue on Dec. 5.
“There was only one kid out of Pennsylvania we lost and he got an offer from Pitt and went there,” Haynes said. “All the rest stayed. I think between my relationship with coach Hazell and me leaning on the [coaches] who were already here [namely offensive coordinator Brian Rock and defensive line and now defensive coordinator Brian George]. I knew the kind of guys [Hazell] had recruited were the type of guys we wanted.
“So really, it [came down to the recruits] wanting to stay with us. Once that happened and I had a chance to meet them and the new position coaches met them, the [players] saw that it was a lot of the same. So it was a good fit.”
Haynes and Hazell like the same kind of players (no surprise considering they were assistants together at Ohio State under Jim Tressel) — guys that are dedicated, smart and team leaders. They are players Haynes calls “OKGs” for Our Kind of Guys, and that’s the main reason KSU’s coaching transition has been reasonably seamless.
Of the 21 new players, nine are from Ohio — including 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback Nathan Strock (Zanesville), 5-foot-11, 180-pound safety Jake McVay (Aurora) and Toledo twins Nate Holley (linebacker/defensive back) and Nick Holley (receiver/running back).
“Nate was a guy we identified well over a year ago as one of the top quarterbacks in the state and a key target for us,” Rock said of Strock, who led Tri-Valley High to back-to-back conference championships the past two years, including an undefeated senior season.
During his prep career, Strock threw for more than 7,000 yards and rushed for another 1,700 yards.
“He was a first-team, all-state guy, he is a North/South All-Star, a three-year All-Conference player, a Region 11 player of the Year,” Rock said. “But the most important statistic with Nate is during his junior and senior years, he threw for 59 touchdowns and only had seven interceptions. So when you’re preaching reducing turnovers, that’s a huge thing.”
In all, nine states are represented in the 2013 class, which consists of nine offensive and 12 defensive players.
“There’s a couple things we’re really proud of with this class,” Haynes said. “The average GPA was about a 3.16, a little over 20 on the ACT and 885 on the SAT. Twenty out of the 21 of these guys were team captains, which shows leadership qualities. Eleven of them were all-state and [linebacker Roman Clay from Lancaster, Pa.] was Mr. Football in his state.”
Haynes said 17 of the players played for conference championships last season, including seven state championships that produced five state champions. Of the nine Ohio products, four are set to play in the North/South All-Star Game.
Technically, the honor of being the first member of the 2013 class goes to receiver Kris White, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Florida’s South Lake High School. White was the only player present at Wednesday’s news conference after arriving on campus a few weeks ago.
“I got here about three, four weeks ago,” said White, a native of Clermont, Fla. “I had all my [high school] credits done and I was ready to play college ball. I came here to play with my best friend [sophomore receiver] James Brooks. He said he loved it here.”
That hasn’t been a sentiment heard very often for decades at Kent State, until Hazell led the Flashes to an 11-3 record last season, 8-0 in the Mid-American Conference, and the team’s first bowl game in 40 years.
Haynes admitted the winning season was a huge help in getting good players interested in coming to play for his alma mater.
“[During recruiting weekends, the current players] weren’t selling me because they don’t really know me yet,” Haynes said. “They were selling Kent State. Those kids love it here. It wasn’t about the coaches. It was about the program, it was about the school, and it was about the community in Kent.”
One hole in the recruiting class is on the offensive line. The Flashes are graduating three starting linemen (including NFL prospect left tackle Brian Winters), but there is just one offensive lineman in the class — 6-foot-3, 320-pound Wayne Scott of Daytona Beach, Fla.
“When we got here, we talked about the positions [of need] with the coordinators,” Haynes said. “But in the end, we just wanted our kind of guys — the best guys. We will always try to fill our needs first, but it’s hard to pass up a good football player. When you see these guys on film and talk to the coaches, these were the best players on their teams. They may have had some guys go to so-called bigger places, but these guys were the best players. I’ll take those guys any day.”
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.