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While everyone else is talking big about Saturday's gridiron showdown between Kent State and Bowling Green at Dix Stadium (big game, big crowd, big plays), Trayion Durham thoroughly enjoyed engaging in a little small talk earlier this week.
The Golden Flashes' standout junior running back couldn't hold back his smile when asked about his current weight following Tuesday's practice.
"I'm at 238," he beamed.
Now 238 pounds is not a small number for any man, especially a 6-foot-1 running back. But it's a significantly smaller weight than Durham carried around during his first two years at Kent State.
The highly touted fullback out of Cincinnati Colerain High School weighed 260 during his freshman year with the Flashes, when he rushed for 630 yards and four touchdowns as the country's largest tailback.
After lowering his weight to 250 last year as a sophomore, Durham's numbers soared.
Durham and current senior Dri Archer became the first tandem in KSU history to each crack 1,000 yards rushing in a single season. Durham rushed for 1,346 yards and 14 touchdowns, and also caught 17 passes out of the backfield for 181 yards to earn Third Team All-Mid-American Conference honors during Kent State's record-setting 11-win season.
After trimming down to 238 for the current campaign, Durham got his junior season off to a solid start with a 21-carry, 92-yard effort in the Flashes' 17-10 season-opening victory over Liberty on Aug. 29. He had a couple big runs for 14 and 18 yards, but his smaller jaunts in short-yardage situations were even more crucial to Kent State's success as Durham carried the ball eight times for first downs.
Durham has worked extremely hard to lower his weight for the 2013 season, believing it improves his quickness and durability.
"I feel way lighter than last year, and my wind's up," said Durham. "Whenever they call my number, I'm ready."
Look for Durham's number to be called early and often on Saturday as the Flashes try to establish a physical running attack against a staunch Bowling Green defense.
While Archer may get most of the headlines and accolades thanks to his dazzling highlight-reel runs, Kent State's offense is built around its dozer. Durham's ability to pound away at opposing defenses and pick up the tough yards in third- and fourth-and-short situations sets up the rest of the Flashes attack.
"Our running backs are headlined by Trayion, and we've gotta make sure that we continue to feed him," said KSU coach Paul Haynes. "I tell him I want you to be a 20-30 carry guy. We have a saying that the football is the program, and when you have the ball in your hands you have the program in your hands. We want to make sure that we can put the ball in the hands of the guys that we feel can make plays for us, and he's one of them.
"The more that we can run the football, it opens up the passing game a little bit for us. If we can sit there and pound it, I think our passing game will be even more effective. Now you can go over the top a little bit more than what you did last week (in the opener)."
Establishing the run against a veteran Falcons defense certainly won't be easy. Bowling Green opened the 2013 campaign with an impressive 34-7 victory over Tulsa, holding the defending Conference USA champs to a mere 51 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Durham actually struggled last year against the Falcons, rushing for a season-low 20 yards on 10 carries. That game was decided by big plays -- runs of 79 and 74 yards by Archer, immediately followed by touchdown passes of 72 and 81 yards from BG quarterback Matt Schilz to Chris Gallon. Defensive end Richard Gray actually produced the biggest play of all in the fourth quarter, picking off a Schilz pass at the BG 20 that set up quarterback Spencer Keith's game-winning 7-yard TD run in a 31-24 triumph that gave Kent State the MAC East Division championship -- its first football title of any kind in 40 years.
It's hard to imagine the Flashes earning their fourth consecutive victory over the Falcons without a major contribution from Durham, especially with a gimpy Archer. Kent State's senior speedster has not participated in team drills this week and is "day-to-day" according to Haynes due to an ankle injury suffered in the season opener.
Toss unproven freshman quarterback Colin Reardon into the mix and you have a Kent State offense that will need a big game from its scaled-down tailback in order to capture a huge early-season MAC victory.
"Without Dri or with Dri I'm still gonna do my job," said Durham. "We've got a lot of weapons, you can't just key on one. But first off I've gotta do my job for everybody else to shine. I'll take the hit for the team and do my job, bulldoze. I love the ball. I've been training for this all summer, so when they call my number I'm ready to go."
Archer dressed but did not take part in team drills during practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday's practice was closed to the media. According to KSU officials, Haynes still considers Archer "day-to-day."
Starting senior left guard Pat McShane did participate in Wednesday's practice, and is expected to be available on Saturday. McShane suffered a knee injury during practice on Aug. 8.
Starting junior free safety Calvin Tiggle is expected to miss his second straight game of the season due to a foot injury sustained during the team's Jersey Scrimmage on Aug. 17.
KLINE BACK WITH NEW ENGLAND
Former Kent State star offensive lineman Josh Kline has re-joined the New England Patriots as a member of the practice squad. Kline originally made the final 53-man roster, but was released on Monday. He was then added to the practice squad on Wednesday after linebacker Jeff Tarpinian was released.
Kline, a Second Team All-MAC performer at left guard for the Flashes last season, was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent on May 3.
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