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Seniors ready to lead Rockets

08/09/2016, 12:40am EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Toledo's veterans say they have a chip on their shoulder

Seniors ready to lead Rockets

The seniors for this year’s University of Toledo football team have waited their turn to step into a leadership role for the program.

After graduating a decorated class of seniors from a 10-win season last year, this season’s group is ready to set the bar for the younger players and in the process show what they can accomplish as a team.

“When you have a good program and great players graduate, you can always get caught in worrying about who the next guy is and worrying about trying to replace the last great player,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said. “When you have a program like ours, I think there are a lot of guys that have waited their turn patiently and I’ve really been pleased with how they have taken that responsibility to lead younger guys, to help them learn the plays and be involved. And just in every phase of their life and what a Toledo player looks like day-to-day.”

Last year, despite all the team’s success, which included a win over Temple in the Boca Raton Bowl, a Mid-American Conference championship eluded the Rockets after late season losses to Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.

After losing All-MAC talents like Cheatham Norrils, Orion Jones, and Allen Covington and a starting quarterback in Phillip Ely, the next wave of talented seniors has made it a priority to take on an expanded role.

“We’ve got a lot of chips on our shoulder coming into this year,” senior offensive lineman Storm Norton said of the his class. “The last few years we've had kind of a letdown towards the end of the year. We're just doing everything we can to get over that next step.”

Toledo boasts a group of returning seniors that forms the core of what could be an explosive offense.

Norton, Mike Ebert, and Paul Perschon are the foundation on the offensive line. while running back Kareem Hunt turned down a shot at the NFL to return for his senior season. 

“Last year we kind of came in as the new guys and no one really knew who was going to play,” Norton said of the offensive line. “I think we kind of look at ourselves as the leaders of this team or at least the offense. I think it is really going to help us because I think the offensive line should be the backbone of the offense.”

Senior tight end Michael Roberts also returns as does senior wide receiver and return specialist Corey Jones.

“All our seniors are strong dudes,” Jones said. “And they have a lot of heart and they treat everyone like family. This is a big family. It’s a close bond.”

On defense, senior defensive tackle Treyvon Hester is the only holdover on the line, while linebacker Jaylen Coleman and safety DeJuan Rogers return for their senior season.

“I’ve been here for four years and I’ve started a lot of games,” Hester said. “I have to take on a leadership role and put guys in the right place and let the freshman know where they are at.

“It gives them a little bit of confidence to know that they can come out and play this game. I just need to let people know on the defensive side of the ball what the goals are this year and what we need to do.”

Hester said the ceiling is very high for the defense, despite losing key starters from last season. With their experience, Hester and Rogers have already set the example of how hard the defense needs to work to be successful.

“We got guys like Rogers and Treyvon Hester and they’ve been a real focal point so far,” junior linebacker Ja'Wuan Woodley said. “We’ve just been piggy-backing and taking it from there.

“If they see something they tell me and if I see something I tell them. It’s just like a back-and-forth thing that we're just doing so we can have the communication nice and crisp.”

As a group, the seniors will try to bring the underclassmen up to speed before the season begins and in the process prepare for the ultimate goal of winning a MAC title.

“I do set goals for myself before the season,” Jones said. “I just want to get our underclassmen to the right spot and also to win a MAC championship.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

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