Kent State addressed strength and depth needs primarily in the trenches and at linebacker, and filled a few additional holes with its 2014 football recruiting class that was announced during National Signing Day on Wednesday.
Golden Flashes second-year head coach Paul Haynes plucked most of the talent from Ohio, including a pair of backyard stars in Kent Roosevelt linebacker Matt Sommers and Aurora quarterback George Bollas, but expanded his recruiting horizons south to Florida and even west to Las Vegas.
Local recruiting has been difficult as Kent State struggled through much of the past four decades, but times finally seem to be changing.
"Northeast Ohio is a hotbed of good football players," said Haynes. "We're not gonna get 'em all, but at least the kid may get on campus, come on a visit. He may then choose another school, but at least he looked at Kent. That's our goal for all the Northeast Ohio kids."
Other local signees include North Canton Hoover wide receiver Luke Grandjean, Massillon Perry offensive lineman Stefano Millin, Bedford defensive tackle Jon Cunningham and Cleveland Glenville products Quan Robinson (WR) and Erik Simpson (S).
"I'd love to get some kids from some of the other powerhouse (area) schools like St. Vincent-St. Mary, Mentor," said Haynes. "I think if you can get one from those schools, then you can start getting a bunch. We'll always start (locally) to fill our needs, then we'll branch out and get the rest of the kids from out of state."
Haynes, who was defensive coordinator at Arkansas before taking over the Kent State program, used his southern ties to land Florida products Zaquon Tyson (WR) and James Alexander (LB), along with Zack Singer -- a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle from Las Vegas of all places.
"I got hooked up with Zack through an old friend of mine, Richard Davenport, who runs recruiting blogs in Arkansas," said Haynes. "We had probably about 15 names of defensive tackles, but didn't feel that they were our type of guys, so I reached out to Richard and he got back to me with three guys from the Nevada area. Me and (defensive coordinator Brian) George looked at them, and we found Zack."
Singer was captain of a four-time state champion Bishop Gorman team ranked among the best in the country, yet had only "a couple I-AA offers," according to Haynes.
"A lot of times those kids get lost out there on the west coast," he said. "He has family in Columbus, and things just fell into place."
Singer is one of three defensive tackles in the class, while the Flashes also added four offensive linemen as they attempt to field more physical units on both lines.
"We planned on taking two defensive linemen at the least, then we decided to take a third just because we really only have two guys that have played for us so far," said Haynes. "Then on the offensive line, we improved our depth. That will get us up to 14 on scholarship, which you'd like 16, so we'll probably take a couple more next year."
The Flashes were inexperienced up front on offense last season, and it showed as the unit struggled to compete physically with many opponents. That weakness played a key role in Kent State's slide from 11-3 in 2012 to 4-8 last season.
"The thing I like about all four of those (offensive line recruits) is how tough they are," said Haynes. "I always go back to (legendary NFL coach) Dick Vermeil, and he said if you want a tough football team, recruit tough players. That's what I see in all four of those guys."
Kent State was also thin at linebacker a year ago, and shored up that spot with three recruits.
"We had one scholarship guy and three walk-ons at practice last spring (at linebacker)," said Haynes. "Those three (recruits) will definitely fill some needs on special teams and give us depth at the linebacker spot."
After losing speedster Dri Archer, the Flashes also needed to add some elite athleticism to the roster and did so with blazers Robinson, Miles Hibbler (RB, Troy) and Eldin Anu (CB, Columbus Westerville Central).
"I think we got three of those (speed) guys," said Haynes. "We'll figure out where they can help us the fastest and get them on the field."
The Flashes signed 20 recruits, and now have three scholarships remaining.
"I'll probably give a couple to walk-ons, then keep one in my pocket in case someone falls through the cracks," said Haynes.
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