The Toledo Rockets have been seen as a dominant mid-major football program for the past decade. Now, the Rockets are becoming well-known for sending several players to the National Football League and not just players making rosters, but players actually making names in the league. For example, Dallas Cowboys' captain and safety, Barry Church was an undrafted free agent in 2010 and is now one of the top safeties in the entire league. Not only Church, but former NFL backup quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski was once a Toledo great along with wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Lance Moore as well as offensive lineman John Greco. At runningback, Chester Taylor and Jalen Parmele made names for themselves in the league as well.
Now, it's time for a new wave of Rockets to make names for themselves. Over the past few seasons, we've seen two undrafted free agents, Jayrone Elliott and former Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, Greg Mancz make names for themselves. From Toledo to Green Bay, Elliott became one of two undrafted free agents to make the Packers roster after recording five sacks in the 2014 Preseason. In the 2015 season, Elliott received a Sunday Night Football game ball after recording an interception and a forced fumble in a win over the Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile in Houston, Mancz started the first three games of the 2015 season before a knee injury sidelined him for the season. Last season, Mancz started all sixteen games for the Texans, plus the team's two playoff games as he becomes one of the top centers in the NFL.
This season, three Rockets didn't need to wait until after the draft to receive a phone call. Instead, runningback Kareem Hunt heard his name in the third round at No. 86 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt, a dominant force in the MAC, rushed for 4,945 yards in college along with 44 touchdowns and over six yards per carry. The Chiefs see Hunt as someone who can come in and contribute right away after taking him ahead of several teams who were after 'Kareem the Dream'. In fact, prior to the draft, Hunt enjoyed visits with the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and several other teams, all of whom were high on Hunt. Now, Kareem's expectations begin.
"He was my sixth-ranked running back, Hunt could play on third downs and help quarterback Alex Smith in the passing game. He has the look of a guy who could contribute early, running back is kind of wide open for the Chiefs," stated ArrowheadPride.com's Joel Thorman.
Those in Toledo will not be surprised when Kareem steals the spotlight early on in Kansas City after watching him give defenses nightmares all throughout his career.
In the fourth round, former tight end Michael Roberts heard his name called by the Detroit Lions at No. 127 overall. The Lions were a team that Roberts was really interested in and vice versa for the Lions organization.
"It's just great," Roberts told us after his Pro Day which included Lions general manager, Bob Quinn and head coach Jim Caldwell, "Those are two guys I meet with often and that's an organization I wouldn't mind being in."
At Toledo Football Pro Day, Roberts looked good and ran a reported 4.7 40-yard dash which at six-four, 270-pounds, was well received amongst scouts. The Lions are looking for help in the redzone which is where Roberts made an unbelievable amount of plays last season for the Rockets which included sixteen touchdowns. Another thing the Lions really liked were Roberts' monstrous hands which measured 11.5 inches, reported as the biggest of any draft-eligible player in this year's draft, something that can certainly help a pass catcher. Now, Roberts looks to help out the Lions who have had a lack of production at tight end and several drops from former first-round pick, Eric Ebron.
In the seventh round, Toledo defensive anchor, Treyvon Hester was drafted by the Oakland Raiders at pick No. 244. Hester, who lost twenty pounds before his senior season, recorded 39 tackles and five sacks on his way to another All-MAC selection, the third of his career. Hester is currently measuring six-two, 300-pounds and will look to make the Raiders' final 53 man roster this fall.
"I know about the Raider Nation. I know about the fans, the fan atmosphere down there. I know that it's crazy, I know that they love their team and I'm just ready to come out there and bleed for them," Hester said after being drafted (according to Silver and Black Pride).
Toledo fans saw Hester provide an absolute anchor on the defensive line from his freshman campaign all the way through his final game in the Midnight Blue & Gold. Now, we wait for Hester to prove himself in Oakland.
Following the draft, several former Rockets received phone calls and deals as undrafted free agents. One player that was expected to be a late potential draft pick was left tackle, Storm Norton. Despite not being drafted, he was one of the first phone calls for the Detroit Lions as he joins former Rocket, Michael Roberts. During Pro Day, Norton received a lot of one-on-one attention from the Lions and they really liked what they saw. Norton will have a chance to battle for a backup tackle spot along the offensive line and at six-eight, 310-pounds, he has the NFL frame.
Speaking of teammates, DeJuan Rogers and Paul Perschon have both signed undrafted deals with the Chicago Bears. Rogers, a standout for most of his playing career both at Detroit Cass Technical High School and Toledo, will look to make the roster in Chicago on his rookie mini-camp deal. Rogers is a two-time All-MAC selection with 94 tackles but more importantly, served as a captain for the Rockets, which could be very impactful on his future NFL career. Perschon on the other hand, is a six-six, 320-pound offensive guard who will have a chance to strengthen the trenches for the Bears.
In Cleveland, Toledo wide receiver and kick/punt returner Corey Jones has accepted an invite to Cleveland rookie mini-camp. Jones has elite speed and quickness and has the ability to make plays in the return game. Jones could be a wildcard in Cleveland as he looks to show his playmaking ability in the slot.
A late rookie mini-camp invite went to John Stepec who is headed to New York Giants. Stepec, who had a tremendous senior season, earning First-Team All-MAC honors after racking up 71 tackles and 14 for a loss. He'll have a chance next week during rookie mini-camp to make a name for himself.
Overall, these Rockets have a chance to make a name for themselves in the National Football League. This 2017 NFL Draft has a drastic impact on the Toledo program as a whole. The reason is because in our very backyard in Toledo, Ohio, we have a football program that is becoming a mid-major powerhouse. Not only that, but the Rockets are sending big names to the NFL year after year, players that are making big time plays on Sundays. Suddenly, NFL Sundays will be saturated with former Toledo Rockets. This football program in the Glass City continues to make strides towards national prominence under Jason Candle, who continues to recruit and develop amongst the best coaches in the nation. Not only is Toledo sending big names to the league but these players remain tied to the program and come back to Toledo on several occasions throughout the season and the year. Don't look now, but the Toledo Rockets are building something special before our very eyes. Sit back, relax, and watch these former Rockets make major plays in the National Football League.