Kent State discovers it’s hard to beat Keith

By: Wally Hall
Published: Friday, January 4, 2013
Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith (3) looks to throw against Alabama during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Photo by The Associated Press
Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith (3) looks to throw against Alabama during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

— Spencer Keith has been the starting quarterback at Kent State for so long it seems like he should have tenure.

Considering the only other college offer he had was as an invited walk-on at Vanderbilt, this is a story of character, hard work and determination.

Keith was another of those quarterbacks coming out of Pulaski Academy with gaudy numbers that are usually more a reflection of the system than the quarterback.

He had some feelers from Arkansas and Arkansas State, which he faces in his final college game Sunday night at the Bowl in Mobile, Ala., as well as a few others, but running a basketball offense on grass and an old injury worried most college coaches.

Doug Martin was the head coach at Kent State who looked at the tapes and saw something that sparked a deep interest. Martin, who also had an injury during his career, saw a guy who was almost flawless.

No, Keith’s passes weren’t always picture perfect and he didn’t have great velocity.

What he did, and still does, is read the field. Like a fighter pilot in a dogfight, Keith read all the options quickly and efficiently.

He didn’t do anything to get his team beat and found ways to win.

Keith is a smart player, but then, what do you expect from a pre-med biology major who has a 3.79 gradepoint average.

As a freshman, Keith passed for 2,147 yards and 14 touchdowns. He threw for 2,212 yards as a sophomore, completing 59.1 percent of his passes.

Back-to-back 5-7 seasons cost Martin his job, and Darrell Hazell was hired to lead the Kent State program. Keith quarterbacked the Golden Flashes to an 11-2 record this season, and Hazell was hired recently by Purdue.

Not that anyone would have guessed Keith was going to be Hazell’s quarterback at Kent State.

Hazell, who likes a more run-oriented game, brought in junior college quarterback David Fisher last spring and signed freshman Colin Reardon. He then declared to the world that the quarterback job was wide open and that a starter would not be named until 10 days after fall practice began.

That deadline became after the first scrimmage, then changed to the final scrimmage and finally not until the opener.

Keith, who played in the second game of his true freshman season, started the third game and has been there ever since, refused to lose the job.

He got the call, but three games into the season, after a loss to Kentucky and a narrow victory at Buffalo, Hazell again said the job was open.

Keith earned the spot again and led the Golden Flashes to nine consecutive victories before losing 44-37 in double overtime to Northern Illinois, which ended up going to the BCS Orange Bowl.

“He’s my quarterback,” Hazell told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. “And you know, I probably haven’t said that enough publicly. His game is right above the shoulders. He knows that, and that’s what he gets away with.”

Which is why Keith has the green light to check off.

“He’s so smart to change us to something else if it’s not there,” Hazell said of the playcalling. “Three of our touchdowns against Rutgers came off checks by Spencer.”

Keith isn’t especially stoked about playing a school from his home state, even though ASU passed on him for another instate quarterback.

His brother Josh went to ASU, and his mom was a baton twirler for four years for the Red Wolves.

“They’ll all be Kent State fans Sunday night,” Keith said.

Spencer Keith will leave with his head up.

Most likely, with more than 8,000 yards passing and at least 45 touchdowns, he’s been there so long he may be missed more than Darrell Hazell.

Sports, Pages 17 on 01/04/2013