By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
After emerging as one of the nation's top punters a year ago as a freshman, Anthony Melchiori's workload is about to increase dramatically in 2013.
Along with those punting chores, Kent State will rely on the former Aurora High School star to take over for standout placekicker Freddy Cortez, whose ability to consistently make field goals and boot kickoffs deep helped the Golden Flashes time and time again during their record-setting 11-win campaign a year ago.
While some around the KSU football circles are concerned about Melchiori's ability to handle the additional tasks, the man himself is welcoming the challenge.
"I'll just refer back to high school, when I never left the field," Melchiori smiled. "I know what it's like to have to play a ton of roles. My main thing is, say I miss a field goal in a game, I need to be able to not bring that emotion over and let it affect my punting. I think I've been doing a really good job of that this camp, just being able to maintain my composure if I miss one."
Melchiori was able to shake off his lone miss during Saturday's practice at Dix Stadium from 42 yards out and boot a pair of 47-yarders through the uprights while surrounded by screaming teammates.
"I was pretty excited," said Melchiori. "I missed that one, just a little bit of mis-hit, and I kind of knew what I did wrong. I liked the whole getting everybody around, getting them fired up. We've got those big games, the Penn State and LSU (road) games, and it's not going to be by any means quiet. You've gotta be able to kick in those kinds of circumstances. Having everyone around screaming and yelling made it more realistic for what's coming this season."
While nothing is etched in stone, rookie head coach Paul Haynes has a plan for how he'd like to use Melchiori and freshman kicker Brad Miller during the upcoming season.
"(Melchiori's) got the strongest leg, so I hope he punts, kicks off and kicks long field goals -- that's it," said Haynes. "The key I think is that Brad Miller is getting better too, and that takes a little pressure off of Anthony to not have to kick from everywhere. He doesn't have to worry about extra points and field goals inside (25 yards). It'll take a little bit off of his plate."
The last thing Haynes wants to see is a drop-off in Melchiori's production as a punter. Last year, he averaged 42.6 yards per punt with 28 kicks downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line, and only gave up 15 total punt return yards during the regular season.
"I still think he's one of the best punters in the country," said Haynes. "He's a weapon for us for sure."
Meanwhile, Melchiori's kicking has improved thanks to some hard work in the off-season.
"I backed up Freddie last year, got lots of work in, so I really didn't miss a step," said Melchiori. "Over the summer, I kicked a lot with Brad Miller. We were working all the time, just working on some technique things and stuff like that, and we both brought that into camp. He's doing a great job, and I feel like, personally, I'm doing the best that I ever have with field goals. I miss a few here and there, but I know what I'm doing wrong and I change it. I've been really satisfied with how I've been kicking field goals."
KICK SCRIMMAGE CANCELLED
Haynes decided late Friday night to cancel the kick scrimmage scheduled for Saturday morning, although special teams were still emphasized during the full-pad practice.
"It's probably been a lot more physical camp than what they're used to. We've been banging a whole lot this week, and I just didn't want to kill 'em," said Haynes. "When you break down the kick scrimmage, the SEALs team (punt team) gets about 12 reps, so we just did it all in one period. We kind of did the kick scrimmage, we just broke it up in pieces and got a little bit more team stuff done also."
Haynes said practices will be a little less physical as camp progresses.
"We did a lot of banging cause we're trying to prove a point about toughness, and I think we got our point across," said Haynes. "I think we've got pretty much (all of the plays) in, now it's just a matter of fine-tuning things and narrowing it into actually what we're gonna do."
WARTLUFT ON STAFF
Former Waterloo High School standout quarterback Dylan Wartluft is serving as an intern on the Kent State coaching staff this season, working with the safeties. Wartluft previously spent several seasons as an assistant coach with the Vikings.
LITTLE MAN, BIG PLAYS
One of the smallest players on the team has made many of the biggest plays throughout camp -- 5-foot-6, 150-pound freshman wide receiver Ernest Calhoun from Akron Buchtel High School.
"Ernest is doing good. His dad is (former Buchtel High School and University of Michigan star running back) Ricky Powers, the head coach at Buchtel, so he has the pedigree. It's just that he played at Michigan, but I won't hold that against him."
Haynes -- a longtime assistant coach at Ohio State -- smiled while he made that last statement, but undoubtedly meant it.
"Ernest is quick, and he's a great attitude kid," Haynes added. "He's one of the team favorites. Very funny kid. Might be the best dancer on the team too."
Haynes said that five players have separated themselves from the rest of the pack at linebacker: Returning lettermen Matt Dellinger (sophomore), Danny Gress (senior) and Devante' Strickland (junior), along with junior college transfer Jake Houts and freshman Darius Redmond.
The Flashes lost all of their starting linebackers from a year ago.
Haynes has been pleased with junior college transfers Katusha and Houts, and how his players have welcomed them to the team.
"Football-wise they're picking it up. They're getting a bunch of reps, which is good. I'm pleased with them at this point," said Haynes. "Our guys have welcomed them in; you wouldn't think they were (junior college) kids. Pat McShane made his senior speech last night, and he was in the same boat (a transfer) last year and said he was welcomed in from day one.
"I love our locker room, I love our kids. It's a good team."
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier