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By Allen Moff | Staff writer
Matthew French has a vision for Kent State football.
AMETEK's vice president/general manager sees the community and students coming together to fill Dix Stadium for the Golden Flashes' eagerly anticipated 2013 season opener against Liberty on Thursday, Aug. 29, backing a vastly improved football product fresh off the best season in school history.
He sees folks on hand being thoroughly entertained before, during and after the gridiron battle itself, enjoying a Kent State football experience rather than just a game.
He's making sure AMETEK does everything in its power to make that vision becomes a reality on Aug. 29.
"If we get good weather, we are hoping for a record crowd," said French. "Our employees and their families will be there celebrating, and we hope to see all of Portage County and neighbors from the surrounding counties of Northeast Ohio out there as well -- everyone celebrating what we are accomplishing as a community and cheering on Kent State to hopefully its record-setting ninth straight home win."
Ametek, a leading global manufacturer of electronic instruments and electromechanical devices which has a branch office in downtown Kent, sponsored last year's opener and helped Kent State draw over 15,000 fans for its 41-21 victory over Towson. That experience was obviously well received, as the Flashes drew over 21,000 for their following home game against Ball State.
"Matt French and the folks at AMETEK are great supporters of the athletic program, and they've really gone 'all-out' the last couple of years with the first-game sponsorship," said KSU Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen. "The game atmosphere at the opener really sets the tone for the remaining games, and with the activities planned, culminating with the awesome fireworks show, Dix Stadium will be the 'place to be' on August 29th."
The postgame fireworks were the talk of the town after last year's game, and will be a highlight this year once again without question. But French said the fireworks will not be on the only spectacle fans will enjoy.
"The activities planned for this year are a celebration of all that is good in Portage County," said French. "In our planning process, we tried to think more about the total experience rather than just the game.
"This year, we really focused a lot of attention on the pre-game activities rather than just the post-game fireworks. There will be a lot of special activities taking place both on the field and in the sky. It should be really exciting. Everyone should try to be in their seats at least 10 minutes in advance of the game to not miss any of the opening action."
French and his fellow planners have picked a deserving group to honor with this year's theme: "Everyday Responders."
"Last year's theme was celebrating 'The Past, Current, and Future of Portage County,'" said French. "This year, we are celebrating the county's 'Everyday Responders,' the special individuals that are there for us all the time -- local charities, fire, police, and sheriffs professional who are there for us when we need them."
Tailgating will begin at 2 p.m. on gameday, with various pregame activities scheduled to take place from 5 until kickoff at 6 p.m. French would like to keep most of these plans under wraps, so the element of surprise remains in place for fans.
Then about 10 minutes after the game against Liberty, an NCAA Division I FCS program out of Virginia that finished 6-5 a year ago, the stunning fireworks display will commence.
AMETEK's season-opening sponsorship a year ago led to a record-setting campaign for the Kent State football team (11-3, 8-0 MAC East), which featured a school-record 11 wins, a MAC East Division title, a first-ever appearance in the MAC Championship Game and the program's first bowl bid in 40 years. Both parties are committed to build upon this mutually beneficial relationship in the years to come.
"We are hopeful that the KSU home opener can become an annual celebration of what can be achieved through hard work and working together," said French. "Our involvement in the Kent State home opener is an extension of our overall marketing campaign. In addition to generally promoting our organization and getting the word out about what we do, we (AMETEK) want to promote our strong belief in being an active leader in the communities where we have businesses and establishing ourselves as an exciting place to work and have a career."
KENT STATE NOTEBOOK
STARTING QB STILL SOMEWHAT IN QUESTION
After releasing a depth chart on Monday that listed redshirt freshman Colin Reardon as the team's starting quarterback, Kent State first-year coach Paul Haynes hedged a little Tuesday morning.
"It's Colin right now, but I'm not saying he's gonna be the starter for Liberty yet," said Haynes. "He's listed there right now, and that is it. He's gotta keep doing the things that we're asking him to do, and (senior QB David) Fisher's gotta keep preparing himself to step right in also."
Reardon can likely secure the spot with a few more solid practices leading into the weekend, when Haynes said Kent State will begin its full-scale preparations for the season opener against Liberty on Thursday, Aug. 29.
"I told everybody the depth chart is set for August 19. That is it," said Haynes. "That does not mean it's going to be the first game's depth chart. We judged everything off of 20 practices, that's how we set the depth. We have up until Aug. 28 to make a change. It is what it is right now, but it ain't written in stone."
DEFENSIVE POSITION BATTLES
Kent State lost all of its starting linebackers from a year ago, and sophomore Matt Dellinger (Mike) and junior DeVante' Strickland (Will) earned the first chance to take over.
"At (starting) linebacker right now are Dellinger and Strickland. They've had a pretty good camp," said Haynes. "(Senior Danny Gress), (junior Jake) Houts and (freshman) Darius Redmond, I see all of those guys playing. They'll all have to play for us."
Junior Calvin Tiggle, who started at free safety the first half of last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury, earned his spot back but may not be able to go according to Haynes.
"Tiggle's got a little foot injury coming out of the scrimmage (last Saturday), so he's day to day," said Haynes. "(Sophomore Jordan Italiano) and (sophomore Keenan Stalls) will be in that spot also."
Italiano will be on the field somewhere, since he's also listed as the starter at the star (hybrid linebacker/defensive back) position.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier