JONESBORO, Ark. — University of Toledo senior defensive end John Stepec has waited three years for his chance to start.
During that time, however, his attitude and work ethic never changed. His effort this offseason caught the attention of the UT coaching staff and players as Stepec was elected by his teammates as one of four team captains.
“He’s going to be a major part of what we do on defense,” UT coach Jason Candle said.
“He brings such a great energy and just a great attitude to work. Whether it’s spring ball or through the summer and conditioning, he just attacks every day with a purpose and I really respect that.”
With the Rockets graduating two All-Mid-American Conference performers at defensive end in Allen Covington and Trent Voss, the path to playing time has opened up for Stepec and he plans to take full advantage of the opportunity.
“I think it's a huge opportunity,” Stepec said. “I got some playing time in the past couple years switching roles with Covington and this is a big year because I will probably have a chance to start, so I’ve been busting my butt to try to get out there and help the guys.”
Stepec, a Lake Catholic product from Willoughby Hills, has been productive in limited time throughout his career, he has just never had the opportunity to start.
In 2013, as a true freshman, Stepec saw the field in seven games and recorded 10 tackles, including two tackles for loss. He had a season-high six tackles against Navy.
As a sophomore, Stepec played in all 13 games as a reserve defensive end and made nine tackles on the season.
In his junior season, he played in all 12 games and earned one start. He made 24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and recorded three sacks. He had a career-high seven tackles in games against Arkansas State and Central Michigan.
In Friday night’s game against Arkansas State Stepec recorded 6.5 tackles and also had a sack.
Stepec said he paid attention to guys like Covington and Voss and what made them successful on and off the field.
“I just learned that I have some big shoes to fill,” Stepec said. “I have to step up my game and play hard just like them.”
In fall camp, Stepec worked hard to improve his technique as a pass rusher in hopes that that will translate to game action.
“I have to focus on keeping low pads and using my hands a lot more on pass rushes,” Stepec said. “That’s what I’ve been focusing on.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.
John Stepec, UT senior defenisve end