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412 group at home in Toledo

10/01/2016, 12:32am EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Rivals in Pittsburgh now bond on same side as Rockets

412 group at home in Toledo

PROVO, Utah — Even before he entered high school in Pittsburgh, University of Toledo running back Art Thompkins knew all about local high school standouts Corey Jones and Treyvon Hester.

“Corey Jones was a beast,” Thompkins said. “He was the man. He scored any way he could, defense, offense, special teams. He was the punter. And Treyvon Hester was the biggest guy around.”

Thompkins, a redshirt freshman from Woodland Hills High School, now shares the field with his old rivals from Penn Hills High School and is part of a wave of players from the Pittsburgh who have come to play at UT.

“I heard about them guys a lot,” Thompkins said. “To be able to be out on the same field as them and contribute, I can’t even explain it. It’s incredible.”

Nine players on the current Rockets roster are from Pittsburgh, all part of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, or WPIAL.

“The WPIAL has always had great football,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “We have always known that and always respected that. We’ve done a great job of continuing a pipeline here to Toledo. There’s been a lot of great players, from Bruce Gradkowski to Barry Church to Tyrrell Herbert, Andrew Hawkins, guys from Pennsylvania that have come here and done very well. Guys recently have followed in their footsteps and made a name for themselves here in the Glass City as well.”

Jones said the young players from Pittsburgh have seen the current group of upperclassmen from the area, which includes Jones, Hester, Damion Jones-Moore (Pittsburgh Central Catholic), and Jaylen Coleman (University Prep) and now UT is on their radar.

“They just see that me and Hester and Jaylen Coleman, and Damion Jones-Moore, we just came here and started something,” Jones said. “They just see that a lot of Pittsburgh players are playing up here and that’s what they want to do.”

Hester said growing up in Pittsburgh, football was part of everyday life, and he feels Toledo is very similar in that way.

“It just fits well with this city, because it’s a football city,” Hester said. “Where we all come from, we were born and raised around football. That’s what the people around here believe in the Glass City, so we fit right in perfectly.”

Other Pittsburgh natives on UT’s roster are junior Trevon Mathis (Woodland Hills), freshmen Ronnie Jones (Pittsburgh Central Catholic) and Danzel McKinley-Lewis (Seton-LaSalle), and junior Terry Swanson (Aliquippa).

They share a hometown and a passion for football and whenever they can they rely on each other.

“Everybody notices the 412 crew,” Jones-Moore said. “We’re always together.”

“The entire team is a family, but the Pittsburgh guys we stick together,” Thompkins added. “We knew each other before we even came up here so it’s just another bond that's unbreakable. We’re just a band of brothers and we help each other on and off the field.”

Starting with guys like Bruce Gradkowski and continuing through freshmen like Jones and McKinley-Lewis, Pittsburgh players have given the UT program a little bit of the flavor that comes from their hometown.

“I feel like us coming up here changed the program a little bit, toughened it up a little bit,” Jones said. “We don’t take any B.S. from anybody and we’re definitely not going to back down from any challenge. I feel like that’s how we were raised and that’s what we’re pushing into our program that we came to.”

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

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Tag(s): College  Toledo