Kent State has never been a football power, in fact, it's quite the opposite. But for all the Golden Flashes struggles in the win-loss column, they've had steady success at producing future NFL talent. From Antonio Gates—who didn't even play football for the Golden Flashes—to Ken Walter, the Flashes have produced more than their fair share of successful pros.
But long before Josh Cribbs was a special teams sensation in Cleveland, or James Harrison was wrecking quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, Jack Lambert was an undergrad student at Kent State. After his career ended at KSU, Lambert was taken in round 2 of the 1974 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He spent the next 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, racking up nine Pro Bowl selections, seven First Team All-Pro seasons, four Super Bowl rings and numerous lost teeth. Lambert played tough. he played nasty. In 1990 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first and only Golden Flash to receive that honor.
So we named our linebacker award after this toothless monster. In 2013 Khalil Mack took home the honor. Mack's accomplishments are too to name, but he was as dominant as they come. It was clear he was the best player on the field, no matter where; even at OSU and at Baylor, Mack was the star. In May he went fifth overall to the Oakland Raiders, creating a tough act to follow.
While none of these players will likely go in the Top 5 of the NFL Draft, there are some supremely talented linebackers in the MAC. In fact, this may be the deepest position group in the conference. Listed below (in alphabetical order) are the five MAC linebackers we think are most likely to win this award:
This Bowling Green senior recently checked in at No. 14 on our list of the Top MAC Football Players of 2014, and that honestly may have been too low. A knee injury ended his season this past fall, but he still managed to earn Second Team All-MAC honors despite missing the last 14 games of the Falcons' championship season. Martin is a versatile defensive weapon, and actually plays a sort of hybrid linebacker/defensive back position.Still, don't get it twisted, he's a linebacker first, and a damn good one.
This NIU Huskies senior has been in the spotlight since he stepped onto a MAC field in 2011 because of his run in with a Toledo band member. Bass has moved on to become one of the MAC's best defensive players, earning First Team All-MAC honors in 2013 after totalling 87 tackles, including six for loss.
We told you the other day that Akron junior linebacker Jatavis Brown is a bad, bad man (in the good way). The 13th best player in the MAC, as determined by our staff, Brown seems in line for a monster season this fall. On a rising team, Brown is the leader of a defense full of talented pieces. In his first year as an every-day starter Brown earned First Team All-MAC honors. He tallied 107 tackles, and most importantly he stepped up against top-tier opponents. Against Toledo, NIU and Ball State Brown combined for 42 tackles by himself.
The Rockets have the benefit of having Junior Sylvestre on their roster. 2013 was the first season Sylvestre made the leap to full-time starter, and he didn't disappoint. With 118 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and five sacks Sylvestre earned First Team All-MAC honors for Toledo. Back for another season, this insanely athletic linebacker has already been projected to win the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year award by Sporting News.
A Top 20 player in the MAC, Justin Cherocci collects tackles for the Chippewas like they're Pokemon cards. The 2013 Third Team All-MAC linebacker has amassed 253 tackles over the course of his last 25 games. He added 9.5 tackles for loss in 2013, a pair of forced fumbles, and an interception. In the Chips' 4-2-5 defense, everything flows through Cherocci, and with his partner in crime, Shamari Benton, graduated now, expect Cherocci to put up even larger numbers in 2014.
Like last year the MAC fans will have the final say in who earns this award. We'll update this watch list midway through the season, and again after the MAC Championship, with the award winners being announced after voting concludes one week after the 2014 MAC football championship.