When The University of Toledo football team met the local media for the first time earlier this month, it was clear that first-year Head Coach Jason Candle has the Rockets focused and united in a single purpose — a Mid-American Conference Championship.
The Rockets, 10-2 in 2015, were picked to finish in second place in the MAC’s West Division by the league’s media. But Candle told the 15 or so reporters on hand that previous success will have no bearing on the outcome of the 2016 season.
Jason Candle had 20 days to prep the Rockets for the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl after being named head coach last December. It was a debut to remember: Toledo beat No. 24 Temple, 32-17. Candle has been on the UT coaching staff since 2009.
“We’re a new team,” said Candle, who enters his first full season as UT’s head coach after seven seasons as an assistant. “Last year was a great season, but those 10 wins aren’t going to win any football games for us this year. This is a different team with new senior leadership, new players, new coaches — a new brand of football. Every team takes on its own identity and takes on its own attitude and approach to the game.”
Candle said he is pleased with what he has seen in training camp.
Senior running back Kareem Hunt has rushed for more than 100 yards in 20 games during his collegiate career, the second-best mark in UT history. He ranks fourth in career rushing at the University with 3,470 yards.
“We’ve seen great attitude, good attention to detail, and a lot of spirited work,” Candle said. “One thing that is really neat about our team is there is a spirit to compete every day.”
The Rockets return 48 letterwinners, including 15 starters and six All-MAC players. Among the eight players on official watch lists for national honors are running back Kareem Hunt, a two-time All-MAC pick; first-team All-MAC offensive tackle Storm Norton; All-MAC wide receiver and return man Corey Jones; two-time All-MAC defensive tackle Treyvon Hester; and All-MAC safety DeJuan Rogers.
“We have a lot of great competition at every position,” Norton said. “This is the best depth we’ve had since I’ve been here. That gives us an edge to have so much competition.”
Senior defensive end John Stepec racked up 24 tackles, three sacks and one pass breakup while playing in 12 games last season.
“Our team has a lot of heart,” Hunt said. “We always play hard and always play for each other.”
The Rockets are preparing for their season opener at Arkansas State Friday, Sept. 2.
UT will host Maine in its home opener Saturday, Sept. 10.
Among the Rockets’ six home games this season are a Sept. 17 non-conference battle with Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference and a Homecoming clash with arch-rival Bowling Green Oct. 15. Toledo also will travel to Provo, Utah for a Friday night tilt at Brigham Young Sept. 30.
The Rockets are scheduled to be on national television for the final five MAC games of the season, and more TV games may be announced later.
Season tickets are still available. Tickets are half-off for UT employees and retirees, and UT students are admitted free to home games with ID. Go online here or call 419.530.GOLD (4653) for more information.