Category Archives: Kent State Golden Flashes

A Father’s Day thank you note

In what I take as a sure sign I’ve long been spoiled by my father, my grandfathers and sports, I didn’t even give a second thought to it being Father’s Day week until I was watching Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals the other night.

I started thinking about all the games my dad took me to through the years when I was young — and how leaving early to beat the traffic became his signature move. We never went to a hockey game, but as the Bruins and Blackhawks started that third overtime I started doing a little math. With a little luck, we probably would have been home to catch the game-winner on TV.

Yes, from Chicago back to Akron. That’s how we rolled.

That’s not really how we rolled. We never (grossly) broke the speed limit, and we probably never would have gone that far on a school night.

Unless I really, really whined and threw a tantrum about it. I was pretty spoiled. My dad hated crowds, and traffic, and loud noises and the way I wanted to go from everything from the the USA Basketball team’s pre-Olympic tour to the St. Ignatius-St. Xavier state championship game, but he always took me. I always loved every second of it. And we always left early.

It’s probably not a coincidence that I hate crowds, traffic and loud noises these days. I don’t get to leave early. But I have a damn good gig, so that’s OK.

This borderline-unhealthy sports obsession I’ve had since I was old enough to read was fostered not just by my dad but by mom, too. And all four of my grandparents. And by my friend’s dads who coached us, and by the other kids and dads in the neighborhood, and the list goes on.

Going all the way back even past when I can really remember, my grandparents never missed a game. My dad was almost always my coach. And my mom never really discouraged me from thinking every one of those silly games was the most important thing on Earth that day.

If nothing else, Father’s Day is probably a good time to thank all involved for everything. Thirty-some years into this adulthood experiment, I’m still in need of all the help I can get.

One of the coolest places sports has ever taken me is the College World Series last June to cover Kent State’s improbable run. Father’s Day was a practice day for Kent State, which took a bus about 25 minutes out of Omaha to a place called Bellevue East High School for batting practice and a light workout. Among the onlookers and recipients of the home run balls were several young kids from the neighborhood who had come over to watch practice with their dads.

Down on the field, then-Kent State coach Scott Stricklin had his father in the dugout and got to throw a little batting practice to his young son. I talked to Stricklin this week and brought that up.

He told me he was going to get choked up thinking about.

I remembered sneaking away from the field and calling my dad and both grandfathers, thanking them for everything. As I wrote at the time, there’s a reason a career .117 hitter in the Manchester t-shirt league found himself at the College World Series.

Because I’d been caught up in my last-minute Omaha travel plans, it was really only then that I realized it was Father’s Day and that I was missing our annual friends/family golf Father’s Day golf outing. For probably eight or nine years now we’ve played in a mini-outing with friends and their fathers/grandfathers/uncles, a four-man scramble with some of the worst golfers around.

In some years, I’ve played with both of my grandfathers. What a thrill — and we all learned a lot, of that I am sure.

In other years the roster has varied. My brother was out of state for a while. Divorce court knocked a cousin’s husband off the roster. My grandfathers still love to golf, but it’s a big commitment for them to say they can stick out 18 holes of the Father’s Day Open.

Eighteen holes of golf is a lot. Eighteen holes of me whining and checking Twitter and driving the ball 150 yards while my brother hits towering drives that land 450 yards right of the intended fairway makes 18 holes seem like 80.

It’s raining this morning, but sign us up for all 80.

If you’re going to be spoiled, you might as well be all the way spoiled. You might as well be grateful, too, and I certainly am that.

Thanks, Dad — and all dads — for everything.

Never boring Kent State baseball wins another wild one

AKRON – Standing in the Canal Park dugout as the game wore on and the scoreboard re-started the inning count, Kent State coach Scott Stricklin had a little deja vu.

Maybe the most famous game in Kent State’s famous run to the College World Series last summer was the first, a 21-inning win over Kentucky in the regionals. And here, Thursday night, with not as much on the line but still in an important spot, Stricklin thought back.

It’s a different year and a totally different set of circumstances, but the Flashes finally beat Akron, 5-4, in 17 innings Thursday night to keep their hopes alive of winning the Mid-American Conference regular-season title. The winning run was produced when Derek Toadvine advanced from first to third on a Sawyer Polen bunt in the top of the 17th, then scored on an Evan Campbell top fly.

All are familiar names from last year’s run.

“It was after that 21 inning game that we really took it to a new level last year,” Stricklin said.

So the challenge is there again. Kent State will have to win next week’s MAC tournament in Avon, Ohio to get back to the NCAA tournament; either the Flashes or Buffalo will be the No. 1 seed.

Kent State took a 4-0 lead in the first three innings Thursday night; the Zips got all their runs in one big inning. Three times in extra innings Thursday Akron left a runner stranded on third base.

The night’s other big winner was Akron Children’s Hospital; the seventh annual Diamond Classic for Kids drew a crowd of more than 2,200 and raised almost $21,000 for the hospital.

“Get something to eat and get some sleep,” Stricklin told his team after the game — and about 12 hours before they were due back on the bus for the second game of the series. In college baseball, the show goes on quickly.

A boring program Kent State is not. It is one that’s used to playing its best at this time of year, and we’ll see starting today (game two of the series started at 3 p.m.) if the Flashes can ride the momentum they gained from winning in 17 innings.

Toadvine’s baserunning heroics can be seen in the video below

‘One tough dude,’ Cribbs signs with Oakland

We knew the Browns and Joshua Cribbs were going to part ways, and after several false alarms it has happened.

Cribbs has a new team, the Oakland Raiders. He signed a one-year deal on Wednesday after a prolonged and strange free agency courtship that included plenty of suitors — and plenty of concern about the knee Cribbs had scoped after the Pro Bowl.

As recently as this week, Jets general manager John Idzik said publicly that his team’s medical staff believed the knee “wasn’t there yet.”

The Browns weren’t one of the suitors for Cribbs. Even though they never gave a straight answer as to why, it’s understandable. The Browns are new again at the coaching and administrative levels, and Cribbs was fazed out of the offense last year, became eligible for unrestricted free agency in March and turns 30 in June.

He’s not the same player he once was, but for a long time he was darn good.

Cribbs’ eight kickoff returns for touchdowns are tied with Leon Washington for the most in NFL history. He was also good covering kicks, and there was never any question about his work ethic or his desire to win. He never shied away from sharing his feelings in public, and his desire for a new contract in 2009 caused a stink, in part because the team stunk then.

He ended up getting his desired extension at a salary that wasn’t as big as advertised. The team got its money’s worth.

The best three players of the “new” Browns era are, in some order, Phil Dawson, Joe Thomas and Cribbs. Dawson and Cribbs both left via free agency for Northern California this offseason.

Signing a one-year deal with the Raiders means Cribbs needed a job. The Raiders figure they’ll get their money’s worth, too, and see what’s still in the tank. Even if Cribbs never gets to play in a playoff game, his journey from skinny Kent State quarterback to undrafted utility man and top-level return man has been a remarkable one.

Someday, he’ll go into the Browns’ Ring of Honor (or whatever the people who are running the team at the time call it). That his exit now is nothing more than a simple line in the daily NFL transactions says a lot about the fleeting, unforgiving nature of the NFL.

To say the least, it’s a tough business. Here, Cribbs will be remembered as one tough dude.

James Harrison? And the Bengals?

James Harrison? And the Bengals?

Let me try again.

James Harrison. And the Bengals?

Maybe it will happen. Apparently, the sides met this week in Cincinnati.

Harrison needs a chance to extend his career after being released by the Steelers in a move that certainly was salary related but was performance related, too. He’ll be 35 next season and isn’t the pass rusher he used to be. The Bengals feel like they’re ready to take the next step, already have a veteran locker room and — most importantly — can afford Harrison.

Even at a well reduced rate from what he’s been making, Harrison is still looking to get paid. If a team thinks he can get his body ready each week to contribute and bring his brand of violence, leadership and playmaking, it will pay him.

That James Harrison? In Cincinnati?

This is the NFL. Stranger things have happened.

Harrison has had a remarkable career, going from prop 48 and paying his own way at Kent State to undrafted to cut multiple times to NFL Europe to 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, multiple-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl hero.

Especially because the market has probably dictated that Harrison won’t get a ton of money, this potential pairing makes sense on many levels — except that the Bengals play a 4-3 base defense. They need linebackers, though, as right now at outside linebacker they have Vontaze Burfict (who might be best as a middle linebacker) and a bunch of either backups or developmental-type players. Or maybe both.

But the Bengals believe in their core, and they believe in their locker room, and they believe in the abilities of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be creative and get the most out of what he has. Zimmer has never been scared of taking on a guy on his last chance, and for Harrison this almost certainly is that.

Last December, Zimmer had the Bengals playing about as well as any defense in the league. He has some tinkering to do and some guys to replace, but he has players who know him and believe in what he’s doing, too. If he sees Harrison as a rusher or as a spot player or whatever, he’ll make it work if there’s any way to make it work. Based on what we know about his other job prospects, it’s probably in Harrison’s best interests to try to make it work.

Again, stranger things have happened.

Again, it’s ALWAYS about the money. So, we’ll see.

Maybe Harrison’s body is only cut out for a certain number of snaps from here on out. Or, maybe he’ll play special teams ’til he’s 50 because football is what he knows.

For the Bengals, finding out might be a chance worth taking. Where the Bengals want to go goes through Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and even if Harrison isn’t cut out for full-go over a full season, he’ll be more than ready for those games.

On Harrison, Cribbs and the free-agent market

James Harrison getting released by the Steelers was probably inevitable.

I’m not sure the Joshua Cribbs – Browns divorce had to happen, but it is clear that the parties are headed their separate ways.

A couple old Kent State guys are looking for new homes.

No, Mr. Harrison, I’m not calling you old. No sir. But age comes quickly in the NFL, and age plus a big contract leads to these decisions. Harrison will be 35 by next season, and the Steelers were over the salary cap until he was released.

Cribbs will be 30 this summer, and he’s not the same player he was two or three years ago. But money isn’t the issue here; he played for $1.4 million last year, will probably end up making about that or less for 2013, and the Browns have plenty of cap room.

Both Harrison and Cribbs have some football left. It will be interesting to see where it is played.

Among the teams that have shown in interest in talking with Cribbs when the NFL’s free agency period opens on Tuesday are the Cardinals, Cowboys, 49ers and Patriots. The kickoff return has been all but taken out of the NFL game by rule changes, but Cribbs is still a very good overall special teams player, would provide an upgrade in the return game for at least half of the league’s 32 teams and can be a utility player/backup receiver.

Even if he doesn’t return any kickoffs for touchdowns, a healthy Cribbs will give a team a healthy return on a $1 million investment.

We don’t really know what the Browns are thinking and/or planning in any regard, because they’ve been holed up and apparently are using extra-secure phone lines to make whatever free agency calls they’re making. All we know is new coach Rob Chudzinski knows Cribbs from his first stint with the Browns, new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has coached against him, and Chudzinski retained special teams coordinator Chris Tabor from the previous regime.

Clearly, the Browns had a full evaluation of Cribbs and chose to let him walk. If the evaluation is that he can’t play the way he used to play, that’s their evaluation and they’re right to move on. If there are any other reasons or motives involved, like Cribbs’ penchant for speaking up when the Browns don’t win or he doesn’t get the ball — or if Joe Banner is afraid of any player questioning Joe Banner — then the Browns are taking a risk. The NFL is a business on every level, but the Browns don’t have enough good players to be in the business of letting productive ones walk.

Again, we can only guess on the reason. We can only guess, too, that Cribbs would have even taken a home-team discount given his tenure with the team and how he could benefit down the road from having played his whole career in Cleveland. If it’s a football decision, it’s one of the first of many that the Browns had better get right. If it’s a decision based on anything else, I’m not sure it’s a smart one.

If you don’t think every NFL player is selfish (to a degree) and treats this league like the business at is, try asking one to take a pay cut. Even a miniscule one.

Which is why James Harrison is back on the job market for the first time since the last time the Steelers cut him.

Next.

While the teams listed above have reached out to Cribbs’ agent this weekend, I’m strictly guessing with Harrison. The 49ers make sense because they play a 3-4 defense and have a championship-level team. The Ravens make sense because they’re losing Paul Kruger in free agency, probably, and their defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, was Harrison’s college coach.

Harrison knows Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton and the Browns are switching to a 3-4, but it doesn’t appear likely a 35-year old would be in the Browns plans. Again, we don’t know. But Harrison the pass-rush specialist seems more likely than Harrison the mentor, doesn’t it?

Maybe the Patriots will call. Maybe the Colts. Maybe the Saints. Probably, teams will wait, make sure Harrison is of sound mind and body and explore their options after the first wave of free agency. Maybe even after that. You’re not signing Harrison for minicamp and OTAs.

I suspect the Steelers have a fear that he has one very good year left, but they were left with little choice. It seems that now, some playoff team is going to pay $3 million or so (plus incentives) to find out.

Walk-on will start on Kent State’s Senior Night

It’s Senior Night at Kent State, and that means a special addition to the home team’s starting lineup.

Senior walk-on Brian Frank will join classmates and regular starters Randal Holt and Chris Evans in the starting five tonight. It’s temporary and symbolic, but Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said it’s a promotion that Frank has earned.

“As long as I’m the coach, the seniors will start on Senior Night,” Senderoff said. “Last year all four usually started, anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. When you look at Brian, yes he’s a walk-on but he’s been with this program for four years and he’s put in the work.

“He’s really seen zero individual recognition for what he’s done, and that’s going to change tonight. This kid has worked his butt off to help make this team better.”

Frank went to high school in Florida and played his freshman year at the College of Wooster before transferring to Kent State, where his father, Robert Frank, was serving as the school’s provost. Robert Frank is now the president of the University of New Mexico.

On his player profile on the Kent State website, Brian Frank jokes that he came to Ohio because “Florida’s winters weren’t cold enough for me.” When Frank gets into games — it’s only happened five times this year — the Kent State student section chants his name, encouraging him to shoot. He’s yet to score this season.

Tonight brings his chance to change that.

“Brian deserves his chance to hear his name announced with the starters,” Senderoff said. “I hope he makes the most of it.”

Worley the latest Tarblooder turned Buckeye

CLEVELAND – Every year, the Cleveland Municipal School District holds a Signing Day ceremony for its student-athletes ready to officially sign for college scholarships.

Every year, a Glenville football player — and usually more than one — is headed to Ohio State.

This year, it’s just one. Chris Worley is a linebacker/safety combo who expects to get a shot at the star position in the Buckeyes’ nickel defensive packages and on special teams. Amongst his competition when he gets to Columbus will be another Glenville grad, Devon Bogard.

Both could end up on the depth chart this fall behind senior safety Christian Bryant, who went to — you guessed it — Glenville.

“This is what I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little kid,” Worley said. “The Glenville guys who are already there tell me it’s a great opportunity. I need to be ready to work. They always tell me how hard the process is, but I’m ready.

“We’re going to have great teams. We have a great class coming in.”

Of the 14 Cleveland Municipal School District athletes at the ceremony at the Barbara Byrd Bennett Center Wednesday morning, 10 were Glenville football players. Wide receiver Chris Overton Jr. (Kent State) and Worley signed Div. I FBS scholarships; the others are headed to FCS and Div. II schools.

Also signing was Richard Johnson to Howard. Johnson helped Cleveland John Hay to the state playoffs last fall.

Overton is a 4.0 student who’s already taken some college classes. Worley’s recruiting was delayed by his academics, but he put in extra hours to raise his ACT score four points and make himself immediately eligible by NCAA academic standards.

“It’s been a hard road,” Worley said. “But it’s been worth it.”

Senior Bowl: Six interesting North players

MOBILE, Ala. – Another busy day ahead at the Senior Bowl, but let’s start with six of the most interesting prospects from the North squad through two days of practices.

These aren’t necessarily the six most interesting players, or the six best. Just six that seem, to this untrained eye, to have earned a second and third look. Five more from the South team coming later.

Players are listed alphabetically.

Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan – Left tackle is a big-money position in the NFL, and Fisher came in with a big-money reputation despite playing in relative obscurity at Central Michigan. He certainly looks the part, measured at 6’7, 305 and hasn’t been afraid to mix it up with just about anybody through two days of practice.

Mike Glennon, QB, NC State – There’s no doubt he throws the best ball among the three North team quarterbacks. There’s no doubt that he’s made more NFL-type throws than his two counterparts. But Glennon at better than 6’6 and a half, and just 220 pounds. And to see him, he looks more like 180 pounds. Rail-thin is an understatement, and he doesn’t move especially well, either. He certainly has some tools, and his final grade will be a tough one.

Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas – He was busy last summer overseas, finishing 10th in the long jump in the London Olympics. He played four years of football for the Longhorns, too, and over the last two years averaged better than 13 and 15 yards, respectively, per touch. Browns fans, he might be Travis Benjamin – but maybe even faster. He’s only 5’8, and he’s probably just a role player in the NFL. But just about any team can find a role for a guy with his speed. Asked about him Tuesday, Oakland Raiders and North team head coach Dennis Allen used the word “fast” three times in two sentences. “fast.” “I’ve been also impressed with his route running,” Allen said. “Sometimes these fast guys aren’t really polished with their routes, but he’s run some really good routes.”

Dwayne Gratz, CB, UConn – Every NFL team needs cornerbacks, and they’ve all seen Gratz take on challenges and show his ball skills here. He’s a “big” corner at 5’11, 200 and has long arms; his wing span here measured 76 inches. He made 41 college starts, had 8 interceptions and has made a solid impression at the Senior Bowl with his energy and ability to challenge receivers in every drill.

Margus Hunt, DE, SMU – Through two days of practice he hasn’t done anything spectacular, but Hunt came here with a certain level of intrigue and a bunch of momentum after absolutely dominating SMU’s Christmas Eve bowl game vs. Fresno State. EVERYBODY in Mobile has seen Hunt, too, as he’s a shade over 6’8 and 277 pounds. This 25-year old Estonian came to America to continue his discus throwing career and blossomed into a football prospect who can block kicks, swat passes and chase quarterbacks. The thought is his best yet to come.

Brian Winters, OG, Kent State – Just your typical tattooed kid from Hudson representing Kent State on the Senior Bowl stage. Only the second Kent Stater ever to play in the Senior Bowl, Winters has received reviews that would rank somewhere between rave and solid from those who watch offensive linemen closely. A left tackle at the college level, he’s exclusively a guard here and probably going forward, and all indications are that his transition is off to a good start.

Kent State-Akron is the 1st really big MAC game

Just a couple of quick notes on MAC basketball and the race that’s ahead…

With Ohio returning everybody from a Sweet 16 team and Akron returning almost everybody from a team that won the MAC regular season, it shaped up, again, as a two-team race. That the bottom of the league is really, really bad does nothing to change that perception.

Both have started the season 3-0 in conference play.

Today brings Kent State’s chance to make it a three-team race. In fact, the next week presents Kent State a chance to take over the race.

The Golden Flashes (11-6, 2-1) host Akron today, visit Bowling Green on Wednesday and then host Ohio next Saturday. That will be former Kent State coach Jim Christian’s first homecoming trip and the first time he’s faced current Kent State coach Rob Senderoff. Christian and Senderoff are so close that each served as best man in the other’s wedding.

Back to today, though, Akron has won eight in a row and probably holds the edge in overall talent and big-game experience.

“Akron’s size is a big concern,” Senderoff said. “Their depth is a big concern. They have a great point guard. They have a number of guys who can shoot the basketball. They have a good coach. Basically, that covers just about every aspect of basketball. They are good at everything, so we are going to have to play very well.

“We are going to have to take care of the basketball. We are going to have to rebound the basketball. We are going to have to limit their transition baskets and make them play in the half court. Those are the three things we are going to have to do. It’s not as if a lot of teams are able to do those things against them, and that’s the reason they are 12-4. They are good at those three things.”

In Athens, Ohio will look to handle its business against Toledo. The Bobcats are 33-2 in their last 35 home games and appear to have their confidence back after a December rut against some pretty good non-conference competition.

Their success starts with getting tempo, sharing the ball and scoring in bunches. With D.J. Cooper leading the way, Ohio leads the nation in assists

Cooper has been MAC East Player of the Week in three of the last four weeks and this season has become the MAC’s all-time assist leader and moved to 23rd all-time on the NCAA assists list.

Ohio plays at Akron on Feb. 2 in their first of two meetings. The first really big game on the MAC schedule is today, and it should tell us a lot about Kent State’s chances of hanging around the top of the standings.

Will Cribbs get run in his last run?

I’d expect Joshua Cribbs to play some quarterback today for the Browns, who can’t expect to move the ball at all on the Steelers by handing it off to running backs not named Trent Richardson and dropping quarterback Thaddeus Lewis back to pass.

Then again, I expected Cribbs to get more touches all season.

We’ve seen this movie before — specifically the one where the Browns end the season in Pittsburgh with backups playing and the Steelers feasting. The night before Bruce Gradkowski played the 2008 finale, then-general manager Phil Savage was informed he would be let go, about ten months after signing a contract extension that went through, ironically, today’s game.

The day after that 2008 finale, head coach Romeo Crennel was let go. He, too, had signed an extension after that 10-win season in 2007.

While the Browns played in Pittsburgh that day, then-team president Mike Keenan sent orders back to staffers in Berea to get rid of reminders of Savage and Crennel, specifically symbolic ropes that were placed outside the locker room and at the players’ entrance. Now, of course, the Browns are on their third president since Keenan.

Monday, the newest new era — the one with new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner — begins. We think we know how it begins, too, in regard to the head coach and general manager.

Cribbs is eligible for free agency in March and turns 30 in June, and though he’s not the same player he once was, he should go to the market and/or the next phase of his career fresh. There’s a chance he’ll get more touches today than he has all season — and there’s certainly a chance that a Steelers team that’s seen what Cribbs can do and figures to be in the market for a veteran backup receiver and kick return help will be a suitor. That would make for a heck of a story.

Today, though, the Browns will try to survive with Lewis, apparently. As for what tomorrow brings, never be surprised by anything that happens in Berea in late December and January.