KENT, Ohio-One of the biggest hits of Kent State's scrimmage at
Dix Stadium on Thursday came on special teams when junior cornerback Josh Pleasant leveled punt returner Sal Battles after a short gain.
Pleasant, a 5-foot-10, 178-pound cornerback, has returned to special teams
after focusing on playing in the secondary the past two seasons.
But, it didn't start out that way.
Back in 2008, as a true freshman, Pleasant emerged as an electrifying punt
returner. During camp he returned several punts for touchdowns and long gains.
But, a few mistakes early in the season and Pleasant lost his spot on the special
until Thursday night when he returned with the big hit on Battles
that left both players a bit wobbly.
"It was a big hit," Pleasant said. "I'm just happy
that they trust me enough to put me on special teams."
During the past two seasons Pleasant hoped to play his way back into a role
on the special teams but he was content focusing on improving his play at cornerback.
"I just accepted my role on the defense," he said. "If the
coaches want me to go back and return punts one day because they know I have
potential there then that's their decision. I accept my role. Whatever
the coaches want to give me that's exactly what I'm willing to
do. If they've got me out there going to tackle punts I'll do it."
Concentrating on his play at cornerback helped Pleasant to become one of Kent
State's most reliable defenders. He's come a long way from the
wide-eyed freshman that could barely perform the most basic of skills necessary
at the cornerback position.
"I've come a long way. Coming in here I could barely backpedal," he
said. "These coaches tuned me up. I had a couple (veteran players) get
my head right because I used to be horrible about having a big play happen
and I wouldn't be able to respond to that. I would just stay down. I
can bounce back now. I'm better mentally, physically I'm stronger
and faster, and it's all thanks to the coaches really. I'm a very
long way from my freshman year."
Pleasant's skills have carried over into the leadership department as
The Golden Flashes have several younger players filling its depth chart in
the secondary and already they're turning to Pleasant for an example
"I definitely feel people looking up to me and my teammates are looking
up to me," he said. "I'm in more of a leader role. I have
a big part in this defense. If we're going to win it's going to
come through the secondary, so I feel like I have to step up and play my role
as a leader and I can't let my team down."
Pleasant backed up his words during Thursday's scrimmage.
Sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith opened the scrimmage with a perfectly
placed 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyshon Goode, who was
covered like a blanket by Pleasant.
Instead of sulking Pleasant responded by firing up the defense, which went
on to not allow another touchdown until the goal line offense drills.
"We really just zoned in," Pleasant said. "We focused in
on our keys and our assignments. We basically just did our jobs and focused
up. It was time to stop playing games and really just buckle down and start
doing what we're supposed to be doing."
It's that type of response and leadership the Flashes will need to avoid
giving up many of the big passing plays they allowed in 2009.
"We're doing extra ball drills every day, deep ball drills every
single day, 20-30 balls a day," Pleasant said. "We're defending
the deep balls, just knocking the ball down and going up for the ball, and
being confident about going up for the ball. If a ball doesn't go over
our head we win, period."
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