Kent State football team suddenly faced with void in backfield

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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer

While Paul Haynes is stressing the importance of team chemistry in his second spring season as leader of the Kent State football program, he did take some time following Thursday morning's practice to discuss the status of several individuals:

Senior running back Trayion Durham, who rushed for a team-leading 766 yards last season and ranks fifth in KSU history with 2,756 rushing yards, will not practice this spring after undergoing off-season foot surgery.

Senior safety Calvin Tiggle, who missed the second half of the 2012 season due to a knee injury, then missed all of last year after suffering a foot injury during preseason camp, also had off-season foot surgery and will not take part in spring drills.

While the Golden Flashes have some depth in the defensive backfield, the running back position became thin when Roman Clay and Julian Durden were both dismissed from the program over the winter for violating team rules.

The only healthy running back this spring who has gained any rushing yardage previously for the Flashes is senior Anthony Meray, who totaled 248 yards on 54 carries in a reserve role a year ago.

"Anthony Meray is still there. We've got (junior) Tristin Boykin and (senior) Joe Rogers, and we moved (sophomore) Nick Holley to running back," said Haynes. "We'll have one kid coming in this fall."

That kid is freshman recruit Miles Hibbler, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound back, who rushed for 1,694 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior at Troy High School last fall.

Hibbler will have an excellent chance to earn playing time as a freshman, while the inexperienced running backs that are currently healthy will receive extended snaps this spring.

"We're getting two and possibly three of those guys ready to roll, and that's it. So they've gotta compete like crazy to be one of those," said Haynes.

Holley, who played wide receiver, but lettered on special teams as a freshman a year ago, volunteered to join the mix at running back.

"He came in and said since we lost a couple guys, would we be interested in moving him," said Haynes. "Holley wanted the ball in his hands a little bit more, and I think he's a playmaker."

In other position switches, redshirt freshman Brock Macauley has been moved from tight end to offensive line, and sophomore Jake Kincaid has switched from defensive end to tight end/fullback.

"That was the plan for Macauley, and he's put on a bunch of weight to (make the switch to OL)," said Haynes. "We just moved Kincaid (Tuesday)."

Senior defensive lineman Richard Gray is back with the team after missing all of last season (ineligible), and is playing well so far, according to Haynes.

"Gray's good to go," said Haynes. "He has really turned the corner and bought in. He's been awesome so far for us, and we need him to be."

Gray (6-2, 250) was a playmaker during Kent State's school-record 11-win season in 2012. He finished with 8 1/2 tackles for a loss and 4 1/2 sacks, and produced a huge interception and a sack in the Flashes' MAC East Division title-clinching win at Bowling Green.

"Gray can be a very good player in this league. He can do a lot of things," said Haynes. "He's a big kid, very athletic. We're expecting big things out of him this year."

The Flashes must replace a two-year starter at center in Phil Huff, who called all the shots up front. So far, sophomores Alex Nielsen and Tad France have both taken snaps with the first unit at center.

"Both of those guys are doing a good job for us," said Haynes. "They're hard workers, throwback-type players."

Even though Colin Reardon played well as Kent State's starting quarterback last year (186-of-318, 1,957 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs), the redshirt sophomore has been told, along with everyone else, that no one's starting job is safe.

"I think he's handled it great," said Haynes. "When you have a starter (returning), you expect him to come back in and play well and mature; do things better than he did last year. Those are the things that we have to see from him. It's too early to tell right now, but I love his attitude. He's got great work ethic. The things that you want in a quarterback he definitely has."

Redshirt freshman Nathan Strock looks to be Reardon's main challenger. All four signal-callers on KSU's roster are freshmen or sophomores.

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