Beacon Journal- First-year Kent State coach has big plans for season
By Stephanie Storm, Akron Beacon Journal
Q & A with new Kent State football coach Darrell Hazell:
Q: What is your daily schedule these days as you’re preparing to get ready for the football season that kicks off in September?
A: “Right now what I’m working on is our daily practice schedules, our meetings and our walk-throughs. All the little things that go into a typical day that’s probably a 16-hour day for the coaches and the players. Everything from getting the buses ready to dorms and what practice installations you want to install — a lot of specifics. But the big thing we’ve been working on is personnel — guys coming in this year, guys coming in 2012 — our staff has done an unbelievable job of evaluating talent, trying to get as many guys here on campus for 2012 to visit with the staff.”
Q: How have the meet-and-greet community caravans featuring you and first-year men’s basketball coach Rob Senderoff gone? Have they served the intended purpose?
A: “It’s about awareness, about getting people out there in our local community to understand we have a great product here, to come out and investigate it, come out and see us and find out about the people in our program and realize this is a special place. I’ve met a lot of interesting people and found out that a lot of people that come to those caravans are Kent State alums who want to meet the coaches and find out what’s going on in the program.”
Q: The awards and honors continue to roll in for sophomore defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix, most recently being named to the Consensus Draft Services FBS Preseason All-America team’s honorable-mention defense. What have you learned about Nix in the past few months?
A: “He’s a tremendous young man, first of all, a guy with a lot of class, a lot of character, who always has a genuine smile on his face and who has tremendous work ethic. Off the field, such as in the weight room, he’s a leader. He’s a young guy, and you don’t usually get a lot of guys who are sophomore leaders, but he is. Then just watching and re-evaluating spring football makes you see he’s really special. His ability to digest what’s happening to him in a split second and be able to obstruct the block and get to the ball. He’s got an uncanny knack for finding out what’s going on quickly.”
Q: How are you mentally preparing the team for a demanding nonconference schedule that includes opening the season with road trips to Alabama (Sept. 3) and Kansas State (Sept. 17)?
A: “Obviously, we have a huge game to open the season. But it’s going to be a lot of fun to fly down to Tuscaloosa and play those guys. Our guys are really excited to play that game and go against coach [Nick] Saban, a Kent State guy. We’re counting the days to go down there and play those guys. Then we come back and play Louisiana-Lafayette. You know they’re going to have players on Louisiana-Lafayette’s and South Alabama’s (Sept. 24) team that can play, so you better prepare hard. Then you come off a game like Alabama and you have to get your mind switched right away. All our focus right now is on Alabama. But you have to be able to change gears when you come back from there. Then we go to Manhattan, Kan., and play a tough Kansas State team that’s always done a great job. Those are four hard contests for all different reasons. Then Oct. 1 we get right into the [Mid-American Conference] schedule.”
Q: Speaking of Alabama, how tough is it going to be to prepare the team not just for the caliber of play they‘ll face, but also for the expected emotional outpouring that will surround the game due to the devastating tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa on April 27?
A: “It will absolutely be more than a football game to them. This will probably be the largest event after the tragedy they had to bring the community back together. It’s an absolute shame what’s happened to that town and the people who live there. Not to make light of that situation or lessen it, as our hearts and souls go out to those people, but we’re going there to play a football game. We’ve got 12 contests a year and if we’re lucky, a 13th, so you have to prepare hard for each game and play your best.”
Q: Do you have an idea of what to expect out of MAC teams, having coached in the Big Ten at Ohio State the past seven years?
A: “I know a little bit. Probably not as much as I would have, obviously, when I was in the conference 10-15 years ago. But we’ll study each team individually and find out what their strengths and weaknesses are and we’ll adjust as we go. So, I’ll have to do my homework and learn as much about this conference as I can. [Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Brian Rock was in the MAC for a long time [at Western Michigan from 1992-2005] and most of us have played teams that are in the MAC. [Assistant coach/defensive line] Brian George was at Indiana for six seasons and they played MAC schools all the time and he went to a MAC school [Ohio University]. [Defensive] Coach [Jon] Heacock had played some MAC schools [while serving as the coach at Youngstown State from 2001-09]. So all those things count.”
Q: What are the players doing now to prepare for the season?
A: “They’ve been with the strength coach for the last four or five weeks and have done an unbelievable job changing their body, changing their mindset and increasing their speed. We’ve been doing some team-building exercises to try to get them in the right mindset. It’s all about how can we grow closer. Because in a game, bad things are going to happen — it’s just part of it. But if you trust your teammates and coaches and believe in each other when adversity hits in the third quarter, fourth quarter or overtime — and this is when you build the trust, right now — then good things come out of that. But if you don’t, then that’s when you start pulling away. So it’s important to build the bond now.”
Q: How can you tell, as the first-year coach at Kent State, that the bonds between teammates are growing closer?
A: “Just watching their reactions when they train and how they gravitate to one another. They start looking at each other and smiling and get that look in their eye and see they’re starting to figure it out.”
Q: Where does the battle for the quarterback position stand right now?
A: “That is the position that, no matter what level — pros, college, high school — you have to have a guy that can lead your team. Right now, [junior returning starter] Spencer [Keith] is the guy. He’s doing a great job and has gotten a lot bigger and stronger this offseason. His arm strength is getting better. The thing he has to do for us next year if he is the guy — and I’m not saying he is — but whoever the guy is, if they can take care of the football and protect the defense we’ll win a lot of football games. But Spencer has done a good job of being a leader and grabbing some guys to throw with him all the time.”
Q: What’s the timeline for the team getting back on the field in preparation?
A: “Our first preseason practice is Aug. 8. Preseason camp runs from the 8th to the 26th. We have 29 practice opportunities before your first game. So we throw a lot of things at them in a three-week period and we have a lot of ways to go. I’m really anxious to see the young guys come in and see how they’ll fit into the mix. There’s some really good football players coming to join us and they’re going to have an impact some way or another this year. We’ll see if they fit in on special teams or who knows? One of them might win a job somewhere.”