Flashback to December 2, 2015. Toledo Athletic Director, Mike O'Brien knew what he was doing by hiring Jason Candle as the Rockets' next head football coach. At the time, O'Brien stated that the players love him and it was an easy decision. But it was more than that. Sure, the players loved, and continue to love, Coach Candle but what the recruiting world knew on that brisk December morning is that the Mid-American Conference spotlight was going to remain in the Glass City. Today, that fruition was confirmed as the Toledo Rockets and their coaching staff claimed the No. 1 recruiting class in the MAC. While the Rockets have been an incredibly consistent program in the conference, they have been unable to get over the hump as they continue to strive towards that MAC Championship.
Now, expectations are rising, the spotlight is on the Glass City, and Jason Candle and his coaching staff are prepared to get to work with the players who faxed their National Letters of Intent to the Larimer Athletic Complex on Wednesday. The 2017 signing class has a little bit of everything for the Rockets; size, speed, strength, playmaking ability, etc. Aside from the skill sets, there were also a mixed bag of long-term commits and those that signed on the dotted line as a surprise to Rocket fans.
"I think it's a really good class again for Toledo, one that should have them at the top of the MAC. The offensive line class is great. Kelvin Ateman, Mitch Berg, Kedonis Haslem, etc. are all going to look great getting off of the bus but they can play too. I think Reggie Howard will help immediately on the defensive line and I also thought DeAmonte King and Jamal Hines were too good late pickups." ~Scout.com Midwest Manager, Allen Trieu
Let's start with the latter of the previous statement - the Rockets received a large boost (both in ratings and size) by landing former Minnesota commit, Tyrone Chambers of Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio. Chambers is a six-four, 315 pound lineman who can play both sides of the ball but likely translates to a defensive tackle at the next level. Chambers is the No. 65 defensive tackle in the nation, making him the highest ranked commitment for the Rockets in this year's class (by Scout).
Aside from Chambers, two other defensive tackles in Devonte Dunn and Kedonis Haslem make this class extremely deep in the defensive trenches. Haslem, son of former NBA forward, Udonis Haslem, has a very bright future after signing with the Rockets despite bigger offers from several Power Five schools. Devonte Dunn is a guy that several Big Ten schools were looking at, but Dunn reaffirmed his commitment every time he received a call. Three guys that average around six-three, 290 pounds will be sure to beef up the trenches. Also, early enrollee, Reggie Howard out of Fort Scott Community College will likely see early action as well, as Trieu stated. Jason Candle has done a great job finding anchors along the defensive line in the 2017 class.
Another area where Jason Candle and his staff excelled is the recruitment of the state of Alabama. The Rockets targeted and succeed in the Heart of Dixie by signing runningback, Nicholas Sims and linebacker Tadarrius Patterson, two guys who will certainly be difference makers in the class. Sims, a five-eleven, 200 pound back out of Mobile, Alabama has tremendous balance while carrying the football and could play a major role in the Rockets backfield near into the future. Patterson on the other hand is a highly rated three-star and had a chance to bolt for bigger offers, but stayed put after his January 22 commitment to Toledo. Patterson possesses a high football IQ and knows how to attack ball carriers but also has the speed and agility to drop into coverage.
The state of Florida was another big hit for the Rockets as well with the aforementioned Kedonis Haslem along with wide receiver, Darius Corbett out of Tampa Catholic. Corbett was a major target for the Rockets over the summer and he held true to that commitment ever since then. The wide receiver class is extremely deep in 2017 as well. Guys like Springboro, Ohio wide out Nick Kovacs could see action quick into their Rocket careers. Kovacs is an early enrollee and has already been taking classes in the Glass City. When talking about wide receiver, we have to talk about Toledo product Bryce Mitchell out of Bowsher High School. Mitchell has the ability to go up and get balls with an excellent vertical and possesses superb rebounding and dunking ability on the basketball court as well for the Rebels, which will translate well to the football field for Candle and the Rockets.
Aside from the true wide receivers, there are two signees who have the ability to play wide receiver but also do some other things as well. Two of the top athletes in the state of Ohio, Akron's DeAmonte King and Streetsboro's, Dakari Carter are two very quick players who have both played wide receiver in high school. King is likely a defensive back but he's told us the choice is his once he arrives on campus. Carter on the other hand is a five-nine, 160 pounder who can flat out fly. Carter has 4.4 40-yard dash speed and has the ability to play slot receiver as well as defensive back and return some punts and kicks potentially as well before it's all said and done.
Speaking of potential defensive backs, Pittsburgh product Saeed Holt and Warren, Ohio native Victor Williams are two safeties that have signed with the Rockets. Holt could potentially become a nickel or dime substitution, similar to that of Josh Teachey who was signed in the 2015 class. Holt possesses great IQ in terms of reading plays and was used a lot in run defense while in high school at Woodland Hills. Williams on the other hand is a hard hitting safety who should have no difficulty fitting into the defensive scheme in Toledo. Scout.com analysts have raved about Williams and see him as one of the potential gems of this 2017 class. Meanwhile, Toledo native Tycen Anderson of Toledo St. John's is a guy that could become another Cheatham Norrils. Many analysts have told us that they thought Anderson would be recruited by several bigger schools but Anderson has a chance to shine right at home, ten minutes away from where he grew up. The six-three, 185 pound defensive back has great size and ball-hawking ability.
Speaking of gems, a few potential sleepers in this years class could be along the defensive and offensive lines. First, Jamal Hines of Cincinnati Princeton High School could be one to watch. Despite being six-three and just 210 pounds, Hines is a guy that several analysts tell me could blossom into a tremendous find for Jason Candle and the Rockets. Other than Hines, offensive tackles Mitch Berg and Kelvin Ateman will provide great size and strength, both at just over six-five and 300 pounds. Berg is out of Toledo St. John's High School, a very successful program in Northwest Ohio while Ateman played for several state championships in Michigan at Detroit Cass Tech. Both will be very dominant starters before they graduate at Toledo, that much is for certain. Also on the offensive line, joining those two is fellow three-star Woodford Lankford. The Kentucky native chose Toledo on National Signing Day over Marshall and Eastern Kentucky to provide more bulk at the guard position. At six-four, 250 pounds, Lankford is one of the highest ranked players in the 2017 class at the No. 69 guard in the nation.
And before we wrap this up, you have to talk about the quarterback position, right? Fort Recovery quarterback, Caleb Martin has been committed to Toledo for nearly a year and has a lot of skills that Jason Candle wants out of a gunslinger. Martin is decently mobile and is a true leader who really took control of leading this 2017 class up to Signing Day in terms of talking to them and keeping the interest level high. Martin has great size and throw accuracy and could develop into something special at Toledo.
Other names to mention are Western Pennsylvania native, Anthony Crider of South Side High School and Olentangy Liberty High School product Drew Rosi, both of whom will likely play defense for the Rockets. Crider played both sides of the ball in high school but looks as if he will play linebacker for the Rockets. Crider had many great showings at camps over the summer but didn't blow up during his senior season, leaving offers from Army, Toledo, and a few FCS programs. Rosi on the other hand was someone the Rocket coaching staff likely wanted to keep quiet. The three-star was originally seen as a tight end commit until word got out of his pass rushing ability at defensive end, which is where the Rockets will likely place him now.
As a whole, this 2017 signing class is something special as it becomes Jason Candle's first actual full signing class considering last season was partly Matt Campbell's prior to his departure. This is what Mike O'Brien and the Rockets knew the home run hire was their long-time offensive coordinator, Jason Candle. Everyone in the recruiting industry knew about Candle's ability to recruit. Now, it's time to bring that Mid-American Conference championship home as the past few outstanding recruiting classes develop. To follow this class throughout, subscribe to Toledo Scout by clicking HERE for premium forums, interviews, and stories.
You can view the 2017 team-by-team rankings HERE on Scout.com.