Kent State football's Elcee Refuge ready to step into 'star' position

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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer

Elcee Refuge is doing everything necessary to become a gridiron star in his second season at Kent State, spending countless hours in the weight room and film room then soaking up the playbook in preparation for spring practices.

He's even playing the perfect position to make a name for himself.

Refuge is the "star" on the Golden Flashes' defense, a hybrid safety/linebacker position suited for a versatile and instinctive player that has a nose for the ball. Those are the characteristics Refuge has put on display during spring camp to cement his status as the starting star.

"Elcee's kind of a natural football player," said second-year KSU coach Paul Haynes. "He plays low and plays square, which at that star position is very important, and he's powerful."

"His strength is off the charts. He has good instincts for football, and he's done a good job of really studying the game a little bit more this off-season," Haynes said.

Refuge saw significant action in the defensive backfield for Kent State as a true freshman last season, playing in all 12 games and registering six tackles with a pass break-up. Haynes and defensive coordinator Brian George decided after last season to move Refuge to the star spot, which would require the powerfully built 5-foot-9 former high school linebacker to cut some weight.

"In the off-season, I lost 14 pounds, came back at 218," said Refuge. "I just did what I had to do in the off-season to lose weight, so I can move around a little better."

Refuge has quickly learned to love the star position.

"I'm a linebacker slash safety, like a rover basically, covering the slot receiver and helping out (against) the run," said Refuge. "You do a lot of things -- coverage, dropping back in zones. It's the most versatile position on our defense. I guess that's why they call it the star."

The position tends to make a star out of those who play it well. Last year, Jordan Italiano started at the star and piled up 76 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a pair of forced fumbles. Italiano has been moved back to safety, his natural position at 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds.

"Our job is to make sure we get our best 11 on the field. Elcee's not a safety, and it's easy for Jordan to go back and play the safety spot because he's played it in the past," said Haynes. "I asked (Italiano) what he liked better and he said he kind of likes safety better. So it works out that we can get both of those guys on the field at the same time."

Kent State's defense lacks the star power it possessed last season, after losing four-time All-MAC defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix and all-conference safety Luke Wollet to graduation. However, a wealth of budding stars like Refuge provide hope that a unit that allowed 27 points and 410 yards per game last year will be improved overall in 2014.

"We're a young defense this year, but I feel like we've got a lot of good young talent that's gonna progress," said Refuge. "We're building a program over here on defense and on offense, so as the years pass we'll be even better."

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