July 29, 2009

Flashes can't accept culture of losing

Last season head coach Doug Martin talked often about the "culture of losing" that clings to the Kent State football program, making mediocrity acceptable and keeping players from stepping up to make game winning plays.

This season, Martin's sixth as head coach of the Flashes, he could find himself just the latest victim of the problem he was trying to solve.

The 2009 season may be the year that all of the excuses (no matter how justified) simply can't save a coaching staff that has firmly entrenched itself at Kent State. Key injuries (running back Eugene Jarvis, tight end Jameson Konz and linebacker Cobrani Mixon are just a few from last year alone), muffed punts and kickers forgetting how to strike it through the uprights all become Martin's problem even more than usual.

And the players have to realize this. Players like Jarvis, who Martin gave a shot a running back when other universities shied away from him due to his size, as well as players who transferred in to actually get some playing time like Mixon, have a chance to show they believe in the coach who believed in them.

The one knock that could never be made about Martin is that he doesn't know how to evaluate talent, and bring quality athletes to Kent State. While this should be viewed as a plus, it has given detractors even more ammunition when they claim he has the players to at least break even in the Mid-American Conference.

It's growing harder and harder to argue this point, and eventually it won't matter how well Martin recruits or what unlucky breaks affect the team if Kent State keeps finding ways to lose.

This year, like many summers during Martin's tenure, it looks like the Flashes once again have the players to finally turn the team around.

On offense Kent State has a running back in Jarvis who has proven he can be one of the nation's best if he stays healthy, a quarterback in Giorgio Morgan who many fans thought could have started last season and a tight end in Konz who could create match-up nightmares if he doesn't go down to injury, like he did in game one last season.

On defense the Flashes have a ball hawking safety in Brian Lainhart who terrorized MAC offenses last season, a big time athletic talent at linebacker in Mixon and a defensive line that won't underachieve as much as last season.

In short the Flashes not only have a few solid players, but some potential game changers on both sides of the ball.

Kent State fans won't know until game day whether some of the more glaring problems from last season (all areas of special teams, run defense, receivers) have been fixed, but it's likely a lot of new talent will be given a chance to improve these areas.

So the 2009 season will start like almost any other Kent State football season, or any other season for every contender in the MAC. The talent is there, but so are some holes that coaches can only pray will be filled competently by the first kickoff.

Except it's not a fresh start for Kent State. The Flashes will carry the baggage of the last five years with them onto the field every game.

Like it or not, they have to realize their play will determine whether or not this coaching staff stays in Kent for one more season.

No longer will it be good enough for players to simply show up at press conferences and say "coaches coach, but the players have to make the plays" or "our coaches put us in the best position to win."

The evidence from the win and loss columns will weigh heavier than ever before.

Simply put, the Flashes need to shrug off all the talk of bad breaks and find ways to win, unless they want Martin's tenure to be just another chapter in the history of Kent State's "culture of losing."


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