The former Canton McKinley High School star still

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

The former Canton McKinley High School star still believes he must earn the right to lead the Golden Flashes into their Sept. 1 season opener at Iowa by continuing to turn heads during two-a-days.

"Ever since I've played, every time I've done anything on the football field I've felt I needed to prove myself. Even in high school," said McDaniels, who led the Bulldogs to Division I state titles in 1997 and '98. "Even if we go 12-0 and win the Mid-American Conference with me at quarterback this year, I'll still feel I have something to prove all over again next year.

"To me that's a good thing, because that way I never let myself slide."

Critics have kept McDaniels from becoming content by constantly questioning his arm strength and durability. Despite throwing for 5,830 yards and 50 touchdowns during an illustrious high school career, Kent State is the only Division I-A school that offered him a scholarship.

McDaniels (6-foot, 175) was redshirted as a true freshman at KSU in 1999, then missed six games after suffering a neck injury while playing in a reserve role during a lopsided loss at Miami last year.

"Ben's not your prototypical quarterback. He's not big and tall, but he's a winner," said Flashes coach Dean Pees. "The things you like about Ben is that he's a leader, and he knows how to play quarterback."

McDaniels emerged from spring drills as Kent State's No. 1 signal-caller, and spent the offseason guiding the squad through summer workouts.

"It's good to be back in the leadership role, since I haven't been able to do it in about 2 1/2 years," said McDaniels. "One of the things I like to do is provide leadership. It's something I can do to help this team win."

McDaniels continues to lead the Flashes through preseason camp, but Pees plans to give several competitors a significant look this week.

Redshirt sophomore Jeff Valentino, who played nine games at quarterback last year, is currently working with the second unit. Highly touted recruit Joshua Cribbs (Washington D.C. Dunbar H.S.) has displayed tremendous athletic ability early in camp as expected, and could also work himself into the mix.

"Ben continues to make good decisions. He hasn't lost the starting job," said Pees. "But all of our returning quarterbacks have improved over the summer, and (Cribbs) is just as talented as we thought he was. He has a good arm and he's a great athlete, but he's had a lot thrown at him. His head's spinning a little right now."

While Pees hasn't named a starting quarterback yet, he plans to do so well before the 2001 season begins.

"After Saturday's (intrasquad) scrimmage we'll probably decide on our top two," Pees said. "Then by the middle of next week we'll make a decision on who is going to be our starting quarterback, and we'll go with it."

That doesn't give the challengers much time to unseat McDaniels, who seems to be settling into the starting role rather quickly.

"I feel comfortable on the field for the first time in a long time," he said. "That's a good thing, because when you're comfortable and confident you play well."

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E-mail: amoff@recordpub.net

Phone: (330) 678-5460

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