Toledo Prepares for Friday

The University of Toledo will host the Arizona Wildcats this Friday evening, in a nationally televised ESPN game. Before the Rockets take the field Friday night, let's take a look at this 2010 Rocket football team. Read on for a preview of the Rockets.

In a little over two days the Toledo Rockets will take the field against the Arizona Wildcats. It will mark the first time in history that a PAC 10 school has visited a MAC school's stadium for a football game.

This kind of history making event is not new to the University of Toledo. Toledo was the first MAC school to host a Big Ten school when Indiana visited the Glass Bowl in 1996. In 1997 Toledo became the first MAC school to beat a Big Ten school at a MAC stadium when the Rockets defeated Purdue 36-22. Purdue went on to go 9-3 and play in the Alamo Bowl that year.

There have been other firsts for MAC schools that Toledo has accomplished too. Like for instance the first MAC school to host a game with Ohio State. It was not at the Glass Bowl, but Toledo hosted a neutral site game against Ohio State last season....the first of it's kind for a MAC program against the Buckeyes. And let's not forget Toledo becoming the first MAC school to defeat Penn State in 2000, a 24-6 win at Happy Valley. Toledo was also the first MAC school to defeat Pittsburgh, when the Rockets shocked #9 Pittsburgh 35-31 in 2003. And then in 2008 Toledo became the first MAC school to defeat Michigan, when the topped the Wolverines at the Big House, with a final score of 13-10.

Lots of history there, and here's one more interesting fact. Toledo is the only school in the country that is undefeated in football, all-time, against both Penn State and Michigan.

Does that get you ready for Rocket football Friday night? It's got me ready!

Now onto the current situation. Toledo improved upon their 3-9 record in 2008 with a 5-7 campaign last season. Two more wins than the previous year was a step in the right direction, but it could have easily been a 7-5 record last year. Toledo was driving late at Miami, but fumbled the ball into the end zone for a touchback in the final seconds, losing the game 31-24. Toledo also came back from a 1st half deficit to tie Bowling Green 24-24 in the 2nd half, before falling 38-24.

Those were two games that wins were within their grasps, and those kind of games have aided in making this team even more hungry in 2010.

Sophomore quarterback Austin Dantin takes over this year as the leader of the offense. Dantin is awfully talented, but still young. He did start three games last season as a true freshman, but he really does not have a lot of game experience yet.

Helping to ease that transition for Dantin as the full starter is a bunch of strong running backs. Junior Morgan Williams is poised to take over the starting job after backing up DaJuane Collins the last couple of years. Williams has the ability to run for 1,000 yards this season. Then you have junior Adonis Thomas. He's a speed back that has good hands out of the backfield. Don't be surprised to see Thomas and Williams in the backfield together at times this season.

Rounding out the depth at running back is true freshman David Fluellen and redshirt freshman Darius Reeves. Fluellen is #3 on the depth chart right now, and he has really impressed in practices so far. He will see some good action this year as a freshman. Reeves is about as talented of a 4th string running back that you will fine. He's still young and will get his chances in his career at Toledo, but his time may be limited early this season.

Everybody knows about sophomore wide receiver Eric Page. He was a Freshman All-American last year and he is on the watch list for both the Biletnikoff and Hornung awards for 2010. His 82 receptions as a true freshman last year surprised everybody, but teams will be watching him this year.

That means someone else will need to step up at receiver, and there are several guys that look ready. Junior Kenny Stafford is the experienced one, but junior Tim Cortazzo, sophomore Julian Bellinger, redshirt freshman Ed Williams, true freshman James Green, and true freshman Bernard Reedy all seem to factor into the equation. My picks for pleasant surprises are Julian Bellinger and Ed Williams. They both have a lot of speed, and fit Toledo's spread offense philosophy very well.

And speaking of receivers, tight end Danny Noble reminds me a lot of a wide receiver. He's tall and thin, but he's got great hands and instincts. Watch for him to lineup as a wideout from time to time.

The offensive line is pretty solid, and it all starts with senior center Kevin Kowalski. He's a bench pressing monster that has some serious upper body strength. And he uses that strength to block very effectively.

Junior left tackle Mike VanDerMeulen is the starter on the left side, with junior Phil Manley at left guard. Their backups are young, but talented. Sophomore A.J. Lindeman was a previous walk-on that earned a scholarship this year and will backup VanDerMeulen. Josh Hendershot is a true freshman, but he's solid and will backup Manley at left guard.

On the right side you have junior John Morookian starting at right tackle, with true freshman Greg Mancz backing him up. And then redshirt freshman Zac Kerin and senior Nate Cole are still in a battle for the starting right guard position.

Defensively, the Rockets were flat out manhandled against many teams last year. The staff sought to upgrade the defense by concentrating on defense in the 2010 recruiting class, and by moving a couple of guys from offense to defense. Danny Farr has moved from the offensive line to defensive tackle. He's a 300 pound body that helps to plug the holes against the run. He's also pretty agile for his size. He's #2 on the depth chart heading into the Arizona game. The other guy moving from offense is Sam Gaymon. Formerly a wide receiver, Gaymon is now getting looks as a safety.

Some key additions were added in the recruiting class as well. JUCO transfers Taikwon Paige and Charles "Bobo" Rancifer are expected to make an impact right away. Paige is a solid cornerback with very good speed. Rancifer is #2 on the depth chart at the star position.

True freshmen Ross Madison (safety), Elijah Jones (defensive tackle), and Jay Elliott (defensive end) should all see playing time against Arizona, as they are all listed #2 at their position.

Add the return of Desmond Marrow (cornerback) from injury and the addition of Iowa transfer Diaunte Morrow (safety), and there is a lot more talent that there was in 2009. Sophomore T.J. Fatinikun is expected to start at one defensive end position, and redshirt freshman Christian Smith figures into the mix at the other defensive end position as well. It will be a young defense, but a more talented one than Toledo has had in a while. There is also more depth than a Toledo defense has had in the last few years.

Special teams are an important part of the game, and Toledo did not do well in this category last year. Ryan Casano will take over the kicking duties, and Bill Claus will once again be the punter. Claus is a former walk-on who has earned a scholarship this fall, and so far he seems to have improved on the placement of his punts. The true test will be in a real game.

Eric Page is Toledo's punt returner, and he is dangerous back there. Right now Isaiah Ballard and Julian Bellinger are listed as the kick returners. They are among the fastest players on the team, giving Toledo threats to break a kick return at anytime. Bellinger had a few problems with fumbles on kick returns last season, but word out of camp is that he has improved in this category. Eric Page started returning kick offs mid-way through last season, and he could be back there if needed this fall. Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams are two other players that could return kicks. Williams returned a kick off for a touchdown last season against Temple.

So that's a preview of the 2010 Toledo Rockets. Just two days until these young men take the field for the first time. If you think you are anxious for some Rocket football, just imagine how anxious these kids are to get on the field and play some football.

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