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Rockets trying to ignore expectations of outsiders

08/28/2016, 12:26am EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

New coaches, team, expectations arrive in Toledo

Rockets trying to ignore expectations of outsiders

It is a new era for University of Toledo football.

Coach Matt Campbell is gone, and memories of a 10-win season in 2015 are in the rear view.

New coaches. New team. New expectations.

Externally, expectations are high for UT, which was picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference West in the preseason poll. Internally, however, there is a laser-like focus on staying in the moment.

“Our expectations are to reach our full potential,” new head coach Jason Candle said. “We talk every day about getting better and handling each day and the challenges each day presents. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We feel if we can do that and maintain some consistency, we have enough talent that we should be in the conversation when things wind down.”

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Along with Candle, UT has a new offensive coordinator in Brian Wright, a new defensive coordinator in Brian George, and new coaches for most of the position groups.

“It’s been great,” senior defensive tackle Treyvon Hester said. “There’s different experience levels and different philosophies. They’ve been teaching us a lot of new stuff and allowing us to come into our own and focus on perfecting our craft and getting better each day. It’s a great opportunity to have this new coaching staff.”

The challenge for the UT staff has been building relationships between coaches and players in the short time they have had from spring practice and now into fall camp. The team, however, has continued to grow and progress as the season nears.

“We’ve just grown closer together,” senior safety DeJuan Rogers said. “In the spring we were just getting used to coaches, and the coaches were getting used to us. Now that we’re comfortable we’re looking really good. There’s been a lot of competition. Coach Candle wants everyone to compete — from the ones to the fives everybody has to compete.”

For Candle the transition has been a bit easier because he spent the past four years as the offensive coordinator at UT and the past seven as an assistant. He is well aware of the past success the Rockets have had.

“What we’ve done here in the past is very good,” Candle said. “But I’m certainly not dumb enough to believe that if you sit still and do the same thing you are going to get better.”

For a program that consistently competes for MAC championships, Candle says this team is doing all it can to tune out the preseason rankings and keep an internal drive and focus within the team.

“Where we finished last season and where we start this season has nothing to do with where we finish this year,” he said. “Rankings are good for fans and helps generate some hype for preseason practice, but in our locker room and our meeting rooms, it has no bearing on how we prepare each day.”

UT has not won a MAC championship since 2004, and that is something that is on the mind of all the players.

“Our goal is definitely bringing home a MAC championship to Toledo,” senior running back Kareem Hunt said. “And I just want to do whatever I can to help this team go undefeated this year and not bring any losses this way.”

A MAC title is the next step for a program that has come so close in years past and has become defined lately by its near misses.

“It would mean a lot,” Hester said. “It’s something we’ve all been chasing since I’ve been here my freshman year. But like I’ve stressed to the defense and the team, it’s about game-by-game, day-by-day, play-by-play.

“We can’t worry about November until November gets here. We can’t worry about NIU until NIU gets here. We’re just focusing on Arkansas State, getting ready for Game 1, then Game 2, then Game 3, and keep it going just like that.”

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

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Senior running back Kareem Hunt is expected to lead the offense for the Rockets, who are coming off a 10-win season and another bowl win. BLADE

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Tag(s): College  Toledo