Seven of Kent State’s 14 contests in 2021 were decided by at least 18 points. Whether the deficit represented a Golden Flashes victory or defeat, the abundance of lopsided games provided a glimpse of the future at Kent State.
Reservations for the starters were held on the benches, making way for the backups to receive quality playing time. One of those reserves was quarterback Collin Schlee, who participated in eight games over the course of the 2021 season after making three appearances in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
After being treated to the trial version of Schlee several times last season, viewers will finally receive the full subscription to the future of Kent State football this fall.
Although many of his reps transpired against second string defenses, Schlee completed an impressive 71 percent of his throws, firing for 238 yards and a touchdown without an interception. But the most noticeable facet of Schlee’s game is his ability to maneuver across the field with his mobility. He resembles his predecessor Dustin Crum, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs, in this area. On 20 rushing attempts last fall, Schlee accumulated 127 yards and three touchdowns.
“I don’t want Collin to go chase Crum. He needs to be his own player, and that’s why we love Collin — because he is his own player,” said Kent State running backs coach and former All-MAC quarterback Matt Johnson. “There are some similarities and the one thing I loved about their relationship was they were really good friends. Through their time together, whether it was on the field or off the field, Collin inevitably picked things up from Crum which is inevitably going to lead to more success when it comes time for the fall.”
The raw abilities of Schlee’s game have been on full display. But holding the role as a starting quarterback of one of 131 FBS institutions requires more than just athleticism and arm strength. As the understudy to Kent State’s all-time single season passing yards leader, Schlee witnessed Crum’s ability to lead a once-dormant program to multiple postseason trips. Now, the former student in the QB room aims to emulate those leadership qualities as the face of the offense.
“Collin definitely has the tools and capabilities to continue having our offense performing at a high level for sure,” Crum said. “The biggest things I tried to help him with were growing as a leader, as a person, and just getting comfortable in college. There’s obviously a growth there between high school and college. Just trying to help him with habits for preparing for games and assist anywhere I can whether it’s mentally or any advice I could give him.”
However, Schlee is in a different situation than his former mentor. Crum was involved in several quarterback battles throughout his time at Kent State — most notably, usurping the role from Woody Barrett V in the second week of the 2019 season. While most teams without incumbent quarterbacks staged position battles in spring ball, the Golden Flashes were confident in their 2022 starter the second their Famous Idaho Potato Bowl appearance concluded in December.
“It’s a little bit of a different situation where Crum was in a quarterback battle and he had to win the team over,” Johnson said. “With Collin’s situation, he’s the new starter but he still has to win the team over. He still has to earn their trust. Through practice repetition and constant, constant amount of reps of actual on-the-field stuff, being a leader, in the weight room when they’re in summer conditioning — all that stuff is gonna start to manifest itself when it comes time for the fall where he’s gonna lead our team out to play.”
Ever since head coach Sean Lewis arrived on campus, Kent State has been renowned for their signature up-tempo offense. Lewis inherited the nation’s second-worst scoring offense when he arrived in 2018. By the time 2020 rolled around, the Golden Flashes held the throne with an FBS-best 49.8 points per game. With heavy RPO usage, the mobile Schlee appears to have the necessary skillset to conduct the “Flash Fast” offense on a similar track.
“Collin’s definitely his own beast when it comes to athleticism and arm strength and some of those things,” Crum said. “He’s definitely gonna show it off this next year. I think he’s gonna shock a lot of people. He has a really good chance to be an all-conference quarterback for them next year, and honestly, might be the most talented quarterback in the conference next year.”
Kent State appeared in the MAC Championship Game last season for the first time since 2012. Unfortunately for the Golden Flashes, the result was not one to fondly remember. In lopsided conditions, team inserted Schlee into the huddle after Northern Illinois extended its commanding lead to 38-10. The backup took full advantage of the big-game reps and capitalized by completing all five passing attempts for 68 yards and rushing for 22 yards on three carries — accruing a touchdown through the air and on the ground.
Including two in the MAC Championship, Schlee led seven touchdown drives in limited action in 2021. After witnessing such results, Crum believes Kent State has the capability to complete an immediate return trip to Detroit under Schlee’s reign.
“Talent-wise, he definitely has a stronger arm than me and honestly, he might be more athletic than me too,” Crum said. “If the recruiting classes keep improving the way they have and the things they’re doing, there’s no reason they can’t take that next step and win a conference championship game and maybe knock off one of these Power Five teams the next couple years.”