August 5, 2010

Mixon leads a solid group of linebackers




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Kent State's corps of linebackers is among the deepest position groups
on the team. It's also one of the most mature groups with four seniors
in the two-deep.


Three of the top four linebackers from the 2009 season return. The starting
unit has combined to start 32 games while the reserves have seven starts to
their credit. In all, the six players making up the two-deep have combined
to earn 12 varsity letters.


Of Kent State's top five tacklers in 2009 two of them were linebackers,
and both return in 2010.


From Jack Lambert to James Harrison, Kent State has produced its share of
outstanding linebackers and the Golden Flashes have another pro-caliber player
in the middle of its defense in 2010.




HEAD OF THE CLASS

As a senior at Colerain High School in Cincinnati in 2006 Cobrani Mixon was among the best prospects in the nation. Ranked by Rivals.com as a four-star
prospect at the No. 8 inside linebacker in the country, Mixon earned scholarship
offers from many of the nation's top college football programs including
Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and LSU.






Cobrani
Mixon is among the league's top players.


Kent State even threw its hat into the recruiting ring, but it would be another
year before Mixon found his way to Kent. The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder, who racked
up 235 tackles in his final two years at Colerain, signed with Michigan and
redshirted his freshman year in 2006.


Following the 2006-07 school year Mixon transferred to Kent State where he
was reunited with former high school teammate Brian Lainhart.


The two have since combined to become two of the most dominant defensive players
ever to wear a Kent State uniform.


After sitting out the 2007 season Mixon stepped into the middle of the Golden
Flashes' defense and hasn't looked back.


During his sophomore year in 2008 Mixon started eight of the 10 games in which
he played and finished third on the team in tackles with 73 and 20th in the
Mid-American Conference with 7.3 stops per game.


The following year he was elected by his teammates as a team captain, and
he didn't let down his comrades. He finished the year with a team-high
108 tackles and earned first team all-MAC honors. His 9.9 tackles per game
were good for seventh in the MAC and 34th nationally.


For his career Mixon has started 20 of the 22 games in which he has played
and has 181 career stops.


Now a fifth-year senior, Mixon was elected a team captain for the second straight
season.




THE REST OF THE BUNCH

With Mixon patrolling the middle of the second level in Kent State's
defense opponents often look to the outside to find running lanes.


It's there they find senior Dorian Wood and sophomore Luke Batton.


Wood, a 6-foot-1, 235-pounder from Austell, Ga., is the projected starter
at Will, or weakside, linebacker. In his three years at Kent State Wood has
started 11 of the 32 games in which he has played and has posted 91 career
tackles.


A torn ACL forced him to miss the final two games of his freshman season in
2007 but he recovered in time to play in all 12 games during the 2008 season.


Following spring practice in 2009 Wood was awarded the Jack Lambert Cup, given
to the most improved defensive player.


During his career at South Cobb High School Wood totaled 306 tackles and three
sacks. He had six interceptions as a senior and was the county Defensive Player
of the Year in 2006.


Batton arrived at Kent State with little fanfare, despite a productive career
at Nordonia High School in Macedonia, Ohio.


Expected by the KSU coaches to redshirt during the 2009 season, Batton quickly
earned a spot on the game roster with a productive camp and tireless work ethic.


The 6-foot, 220-pounder started just one game but played in 10 during the
2009 season. He recorded 26 tackles with a career high of eight stops against
Iowa State.


Batton is projected to start at the Sam, or strongside, linebacker position.


At Nordonia Batton earned second team all-Ohio honors as a senior after recording
130 tackles for the second straight year.


Batton's backup is projected to be senior Will Johnson, who
has started seven games in his three years at Kent State.


Johnson, a 6-foot, 209-pounder from Greenbelt, Md., suited up as a defensive
back during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He moved to linebacker in 2009 and finished
the season with six tackles, giving him 39 in his career.


As a senior at Gwynn Park High School Johnson recorded 121 tackles and 15
sacks. He also scored a dozen offensive touchdowns. The following year, at
Hargrave Military Academy, Johnson had 83 tackles, four sacks and a pick to
earn team defensive MVP honors.


Behind Johnson is redshirt freshman Garrick Piggott,
a 6-foot-1, 218-pounder
from Williamburg, Va.
Piggott came to Kent State from Hargrave Military Academy. But, in his career
at Lafayette High School he earned post-season honors for three straight seasons.
He rushed for 1,353 yards and 15 scores and added 221 receiving yards and two
more touchdowns. He was also a three-time all-state honoree for his efforts on
the Lafayette track team.


The backups at Will linebacker are sophomore Kent Walker and junior
Byron Tyson.


Walker, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder from Kittanning, Pa., played in eight games
last season, all on special teams. He missed spring drills due to an off-the-field
injury.


As a senior at Kittanning High Walker, then a defensive end, tied a single-season
school record with 12 sacks. The following season he played at Hargrave Military
Academy and earned a spot in the Rivals.com Top 50 prep school prospects rankings.






Luke
Batton has settled in as the starter at SAM Linebacker.


The 5-foot-10, 213-pound Tyson has been a mainstay on Kent State's special
teams units over the past two seasons. He has played in 22 games and has recorded
nine tackles.


In three seasons at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, N.C., Tyson racked
up 233 tackles, 15 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. During his four years in
high school Tyson was part of four state championship football teams.


At middle linebacker Howard Bowens and Marc Lechlitner are
projected to back up Mixon.


Bowens, a 6-foot, 216-pound senior from LaVerne, Calif., has played in 32
games over the past three seasons, primarily on special teams.


Last fall he recorded 12 tackles to give him 25 for his career.


As a freshman he shared the team's Outstanding Special Teams Award with
kicker Nate Reed.


Bowens tallied 235 tackles during his final two years at Claremont High School.


Lechlitner has yet to see game action during his three years at Kent State.


The 6-foot, 229-pounder from Normandy High School in Parma, Ohio, racked up
188 tackles and nine sacks in his high school career.


Danny Gress, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder from Englewood,
Ohio, and C.J.
Steward
,
a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from Jacksonville, Fla., redshirted in 2009 and should
compete
for playing
time in 2010.




NEWCOMERS

Kent State signed a pair of linebackers in its recruiting class of 2010 and
both could see early playing time.


Zack Hitchens, a 6-foot-1, 225-pounder from Canal Winchester, Ohio,
posted 192 tackles and 20 sacks in his career at Canal Winchester High School.
He finished his senior season with 62 stops, including 16 for a loss, 2 sacks
and a pair of interceptions. In 2009 he was named an all-Ohioan and the Division
II district player of the year.


The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Steve Mehrer comes to Kent State from Jerome
High School in Dublin, Ohio. An all-state selection as a junior and senior,
Mehrer finished his career with over 200 tackles and 20 sacks. As a junior
he rushed for 800 yards and 13 scores. Also a standout in baseball, Mehrer
was part of two youth World Series championship teams and won the home run
derby title in 2006.




POSITION STRENGTHS

Any defense with a potential NFL draft pick in the middle of it has plenty
of strengths.


Mixon draws extra attention from opposing offenses, eats up blocks and stuffs
the run. He's also a leader on the field.


The Golden Flashes' linebackers are an experienced and veteran bunch,
with two senior starters and two other seniors in the two-deep. The Golden
Flashes have some talented players waiting in the wings for their first opportunity
at playing time and with the signing of Hitchens and Mehrer, Kent State has
plenty of talent itching to get on the field.




POSITION WEAKNESSES

Depth isn't so much an issue at linebacker as Johnson and Bowens have
plenty of game action and Walker saw time last season. But Johnson moved to
linebacker from defensive back and Bowens and Walker saw much of their game
time on special teams.


There is a learning curve for the reserves as they continue their development
as linebackers.


Even with that lack of experience in the middle of the defense the reserves
are a mature group, enabling them to easily make their reads and adjustments
on the fly.




OVERVIEW

With two fifth-year seniors returning, Kent State's safeties hold
the edge for the best combination of talent and experience on Kent State's
defense. But, the linebackers aren't far behind.


Mixon is an all-conference performer and should land on several post-season
all-America teams. Wood has the potential to be an all-conference performer
and Batton is among the MAC's top up-and-coming defensive players.


That trio makes up a solid corps of linebackers.


The reserves have plenty of promise, too. With so much competition for playing
time this group should get better each and every practice.


















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