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November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

There I was, high above Dix Stadium on Tuesday night taking in Kent State Football.

This was my last home football game as a student, and my first from the press box covering the game. I thought about how unfortunate it was for Kent State's 13 seniors, especially quarterback Julian Edelman, to play their last home game in front of only a small gathering of family and close friends in a total blizzard.

These weekday night games are tricky, especially in November. They can be really special if you have a good team and a student body that is into the program. In November, with the wind whipping, the snow falling, and a team that is out of contention, you get what you had Tuesday night.

Edelman has made following football at Kent State worthwhile for me, and when head coach Doug Martin says he is "worth the price of admission," you better believe that is true.

But you see, I would have followed Kent State football whether the 6-foot magician from the Bay Area had come to KSU or not. I enjoyed the Josh Cribbs experience during my first year at Kent State, his last. He was a special player and now we have seen him become the best special teams player in the NFL, no doubt about it.

I sat in the student section for my first home game, a win over Liberty. I watched a Thursday night special between KSU and archrival Akron, pitting Cribbs against Charlie Frye. I remember I couldn't believe the negativity of the student body regarding the football team. Who could blame them, right?

But still, that was eye opening.

I followed Kent State reel off four straight wins to conclude the 2004 season and Cribbs continue to dazzle, but not many people remember that. In 2005 I endured the debacle that was a 1-10 season. I watched a team without a running game struggle just to move the chains. I watched the team play Buffalo at the end of the season on a beautiful college football Saturday, except no one was there to see it.

I've followed the team through The Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, Record Courier, Daily Kent Stater and any other newspaper you can think of that had information on the FLashes. I've listened to Bill Needle, and Tom and Ty Linder call games on the radio from the road and shared in their pain in the blowout losses, as well as the heart breaking ones.

In 2006 I was at Dix Stadium to watch the Big Ten's Minnesota Golden Gophers come to town and rout the Flashes. I also saw Edelman debut in that game when he caught everyone's attention with an open-field scramble on the team's first drive.

I was watching the next week on ESPN Classic when the team lost a heart breaker at Army. I rode the unbelievable ride of excitement and emotion that came with the team's five-game winning streak.

It gave us a strong taste of what it would feel like around here if this football program could consistently win games and compete for the MAC Championship.

When rain, sleet and hale pelted down on me in a 2006 game against Ohio that was being billed as one of the biggest in program history, yeah I was at that game too.

Last year brought big expectations, except the team struggled through injuries to a 3-9 finish.

No, it is not Ohio State. No the team won't be playing for over 100,000 people at home anytime soon.

I've defended the program to friends and family. I've tried to believe in where the program was heading.

Last week I sat with my dad through rain and chilly temperatures only to be rewarded with a thrilling victory over Temple.

As you can probably tell, I really don't know where I'm going with this column. Being the sports nut I am, I have supported all the sports programs at Kent State. I have felt that is my duty. I wish more people would support the football program, and I wish the program would give them more of a reason to do so.

There I was high above Dix Stadium on Tuesday night watching a blowout, trying to cherish every second that I had to watch Edelman work his magic, Derek Burrell stop ball-carriers, and the rest of the seniors in action.

When Doug Martin spoke after the Temple game about how "the war started" for Kent State football and how changing the mentality is a key for the program to turn the corner, I was listening. And you can bet whether it's from the press box or in the crowd, I'll continue to believe in the program.


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