But in Pees' mind, the Golden Flashes' development

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

But in Pees' mind, the Golden Flashes' development was actually much more drastic.

"We are without a doubt a much better team now than we were 12 months ago," said Pees, in between staff recruiting meetings on Wednesday. "We were only in maybe two games in the 1998 season. We only won two games this year, but we played four winning teams in Marshall, Pittsburgh, Miami and Akron tough into the fourth quarter.

"Because of that, I think the kids now realize they can compete with anyone in the Mid-American Conference."

The Flashes posted wins over a solid Bowling Green team and winless Buffalo. However, they also absorbed lopsided losses at Cincinnati (41-3), Toledo (47-7) and Northern Illinois (50-7) in '99.

"That's the next step, to play consistently well every week," said Pees. "That's something we didn't do this year. Those games at Toledo and Northern Illinois just didn't make sense."

Of course, when you put as many underclassmen on the field as the Flashes did once again this season, you'd better expect a rollercoaster ride.

"A lot of our younger guys were up and down, and that comes with the territory," said Pees. "But the good thing is they gained that valuable experience, and they're all coming back."

Kent will have 16 players who started the season finale against Akron and a bevy of lettermen returning in the year 2000. The only key contributors who've been lost are lineman Brad Hartman and safeties Geoff Betts and Gary McCullough on defense along with tight end Jason Gavadza, tackle Dan Goodspeed and quarterback Jose Davis on offense.

Davis, who rewrote Kent's passing record books during his all-too-brief three-year career, will be sorely missed. Replacing him is Pees' main concern heading into the offseason.

"Zach Williams has been here for three years now, and I'm very confident in him," said Pees. "He's got the arm and the tools to be a good quarterback, but the question is how we adapt as an offense to Zach. We also need good competition behind him to push him."

Kent's new signal-caller will be surrounded by a wealth of experience. Every skill position performer and four of five starting linemen return including Cory Zwick, a non-entity who shocked the coaching staff with his stellar play as the team's starting left tackle in the last three games of '99.

"He's a guy we'd all but written off," Pees admitted. "But we saw a couple of things in him, then when injuries hit we decided to give him a shot at starting. Then he goes in and plays extremely well. He was a huge surprise."

The Flashes averaged a mediocre 19.4 points and 330 yards per game in '99, but they closed the season with three of their best all-around offensive performances.

"We finally became the type of offensive team that I've always wanted to be, a team that mixes the run and pass effectively," said Pees. "We came to an understanding as a coaching staff and as a team that we needed to be able to do both to be effective."

However, to be effective as a team Pees knew he needed to patch up Kent's porous defense.

"We knew we were never going to win or be competitive until we were able to stop somebody," said Pees. "Our defense had to improve immensely, and it did this year."

The Flashes still coughed up 387 yards and 34 points per game, but that's over 85 yards and a touchdown better than a year ago. They also allowed 1.4 yards per play less than in '98, when teams gained a whopping 6.8 yards a pop.

"These guys had five different defensive systems in five years, but now they've played the same one the last two years and it shows," said Pees. "Now the key is to keep moving forward."

The Flashes have charged full steam into the recruiting season. They have 17 scholarships available and will seek immediate help at every position, but especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

Pees was able to redshirt 12 scholarship players from last year's recruiting class, including 6-foot-7 wide receiver Maurio Medley, offensive lineman Steve Smith and versatile performer Jeff Valentino _ names Kent fans will get to know much better in the years to come.

Overall, while the pace has been a little more deliberate than he would have liked, Pees believes the Flashes are slowly evolving into a solid program.

"Sure I'd like to have a few more wins and be a little further ahead, but I'm content with where we're at," said Pees. "If we improve as much from now to August as we did from January to August last year, we'll have a good chance to turn the corner and have a winning season next year."

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