Paul Haynes spent most of his time at the podium during Wednesday's National Signing Day press conference at the M.A.C. Center passing out praise while announcing his 21-member 2013 recruiting class.
Kent State's new football coach, only on the job officially for about the past three weeks, first gave his coaching staff a collective pat on the back for keeping 10 of the 11 verbal commitments obtained by previous head coach Darrell Hazell while adding 11 of their own to the mix.
"This staff did a great job," said Haynes, a former star defensive back for the Flashes. "Really the first day that we got together was Jan. 11 or 12, and we just kind of hit the ground running. They did a great job of gaining relationships with the guys who were already committed, while also searching for new guys. I want to commend them on the job they did of finalizing this class. It was truly a team effort."
Next he gave his current players credit for selling his school better than any coach ever could.
"The guys that do the best job of recruiting is your players," said Haynes. "When (recruiting coordinator Ben) Needham asked guys to host (recruits), we had a list of about 20 or 25 guys, which is unheard of. And these guys weren't selling me, because they don't know me. They were selling Kent State because those kids like it here. That was the beauty to me, watching these guys recruit. When those parents and those kids heard what they had to say, (choosing Kent State) was a no-brainer."
One of the toughest sells in college football over the past several decades also became much easier this time around thanks to last season's record-setting 11-3 campaign, which featured a Mid-American Conference East Division title and the first bowl berth in 40 years.
"No doubt that helped," said Haynes. "Not only the success on the field, but 47 guys over 3.0 (grade-point average) as well. A lot of times when you have your first success there's no off-field things happening. But here it wasn't just one phase of the program (excelling), it was all phases. When the parents and kids come on and they see that, they see it's a program on the rise not only on the football field but on the rise as a whole."
All of those factors played key roles in helping the Flashes assemble a class that had Haynes beaming with pride.
"We said we wanted OKGs -- our kind of guys -- and that's what we got," said Haynes. "We had 21 scholarships and we got 21 guys. There were no surprise today, which is awesome for us. This class has an average GPA of about 3.16, a little over 20 on the ACT, and 885 on the SAT, which is great. Twenty out of 21 of these guys were team captains, which shows leadership qualities. Eleven were all-state, one was Mr. Football in his state, which is huge. Seventeen played for conference championships and seven of them played for state championships, with five of them winning.
"We're very proud and very excited about this class."
Although Haynes refused to single out any particular recruit, the marquee player based on stats alone is 2012 Pennsylvania Mr. Football Roman Clay. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back from Lancaster Catholic High School rushed for a Lancaster-Lebanon League record 2,497 yards and scored 31 touchdowns as a senior, following a 1,900-yard, 35-TD junior campaign. He'll join a crowded backfield that already features 1,000-yard rushers Dri Archer and Trayion Durham along, with promising sophomore Julian Durden, but will certainly have a chance to contribute as a freshman.
Another intriguing prospect is Nathan Strock, a 6-3, 200-pound quarterback from Tri-Valley High School in Zanesville. Strock threw for over 7,000 yards and rushed for 1,700 during his career, and threw for 59 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions during his last two seasons.
Strock is expected to compete with senior David Fisher and redshirt freshman Colin Reardon for the starting quarterback job next season.
"We told them when we recruited them that we want guys who want to come in and compete, not guys who want to just come in and sit and wait for two or three years," said Haynes. "Strock's gonna have the opportunity to (compete for the starting job), and it's up to him to see if he takes it."
One season after landing star freshman punter Anthony Melchiori from Aurora, the Flashes added another Greenmen star in Jake McVay. The 5-11, 180-pound two-way star for Aurora rushed for 850 yards and 16 touchdowns, while piling up 75 tackles and four interceptions last season. He is expected to play safety at Kent State.
Haynes tapped connections made during his previous coaching stint at Arkansas to land several southern recruits, including 5-11, 280-pound defensive tackle Jontey Byrd and 6-3, 320-pound offensive lineman Wayne Scott out of Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Fla., along with Kris White from South Lake High School in Clermont, Fla.
White played several positions at South Lake, but is expected to give the Flashes some much-needed size at wide receiver at 6-2, 210. He joins former South Lake teammate James Brooks in the KSU receiving corps.
"My best friend (Brooks) came up here to play football and said he loved it, so I just wanted to come here too," said White, who is already enrolled at Kent State and will participate in spring practices. "I have family up here near Pittsburgh, and I like the program. It's rising."
The class also features twins Nate and Nick Holley out of traditional Ohio football power Toledo Whitmer, who are among the nine home-state recruits.
One surprise with the class is that it only includes one offensive lineman. Kent State lost three starters up front from last year's squad, and played the same five linemen for the entire season a year ago.
"We reached out to some guys. Some guys ended up going other places, and other guys we just didn't think were good enough," said Haynes. "There's some guys that will step up that are on the team right now, and there may be some guys on the defensive side that we may move over. We'll fill those holes. We're not gonna take guys just to take guys."
Now that a furious three-week recruiting binge is complete and the 2013 class is officially inked, Haynes is looking forward to spending more time at Kent State getting to know his players.
"I'm looking forward to getting around these kids a little more, and this is the time I can do that," said Haynes. "I've only had two team meetings with them so far. That's the next phase we're gonna go through, to get around our team and embrace our team so we can get to know these guys."