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Senior class puts UT on the map

11/16/2016, 12:27am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Group plays final home game

Senior class puts UT on the map

UT senior Michael Roberts celebrates after catching a pass from Logan Woodside for a touchdown against Bowling Green on Oct. 15. Roberts’ 12 receiving touchdowns are the most by a tight end in school history. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

As the University of Toledo football team welcomes Ball State for Senior Night tonight at the Glass Bowl, a diverse and talented group will play their final home game for the Rockets.

From Kareem Hunt, a record-setting rusher who came back for his senior year to chase a Mid-American Conference title to Storm Norton, a team captain who transformed his body and made himself into an all-conference performer.

From DeJuan Rogers, a hard-hitting safety playing for the memory of his late mother to Michael Roberts, a tight end whose breakout season has him close to setting a single-season TD reception record.

From Corey Jones, a speedy slot receiver who has excelled in the return game to Mike Ebert and Paul Perschon, two offensive lineman who have become mainstays on a dependable offensive line.

From Treyvon Hester, a talented defensive tackle who sets the tone for the defense to John Stepec, a defensive end whose relentless pursuit makes him a menace for opposing quarterbacks.

The 23 players in this year’s senior class has helped lead a successful four-year stretch that has Toledo established as one of the top programs in the MAC. During the past four years, the Rockets have an overall record of 34-13 and a 23-7 mark in the MAC. They have two bowl wins in two tries and are well on their way to a third bowl appearance.

UT coach Jason Candle has been with this group since the start for the past three years as the team’s offensive coordinator and this year as the head coach.

“Like any great senior class, it’s really tough to see great players move on,” Candle said. “As tough as that is, it’s really going to be a proud day to watch those guys play their last game here at the Glass Bowl, because I’ve watched these young men struggle these last four years. They’ve had tough times and they’ve had really good times that they have been able to go through that together and really grow and become such a close knit team.”

Hunt, perhaps the face of this senior class, sits in second place all-time in career rushing yards (4,518 yards) at UT and needs 332 yards to pass Chester Taylor (4,849) for the top spot.

Candle said he knew from the beginning Hunt had a chance to be an all-time great at Toledo.

“I did,” Candle said. “I really did. You get off to that great of a start, you paint the picture of a kid’s career ascending the entire time. For most guys that happens, but some guys they level off. Kareem’s been able to battle through some injuries and fight through the pain of some those injuries and keep going and keep playing. I figured he would have a big senior year and he has so far.”

Norton, a Whitmer product, worked his way into becoming a successful offensive lineman after coming into Toledo overweight and out of shape.

“He really turned himself into a great player,” Candle said. “You’re talking about a guy as a freshman that struggled to finish winter conditioning and finish workouts. Now you are talking about one of the better tackles across college football. It’s really a testament to his work ethic and how he approaches each and every day.”

Here’s a look at some of the other UT seniors:

■ DeJuan Rogers, S, Detroit: Rogers was selected as a captain by his peers before the season, one in which he has 61 tackles through 10 games, five pass breakups, and an interception. Rogers earned third-team All-MAC honors in 2015 after making 67 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and one sack. He also forced three fumbles, broke up 13 passes, and had one interception.

Treyvon Hester, DT, Pittsburgh: Hester is serving as a team captain this season after he earned third-team All-MAC honors as a freshman in 2013 and second-team All-MAC honors as a sophomore in 2014. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Hester is a force at defensive tackle and has been his whole career, with 149 career tackles and 13 career sacks.

John Stepec, DE, Willoughby Hills, Ohio: Stepec is a team captain whose relentless work ethic has led to big numbers this year. After starting just one game last season, Stepec has 4.5 sacks and 50 tackles, 13.5 for loss, this year. He made a career-high eight tackles in the season opener at Arkansas State.

Michael Roberts, TE, Cleveland: After starting just one game as a junior, Roberts entered 2016 as a John Mackey Award candidate. Roberts has done nothing but live up to that recognition. The 6-5, 270-pounder has a unique blend of size and athleticism that makes him an imposing threat in the red zone. His 12 receiving touchdowns are the most by a tight end in school history and with two regular-season games left, Roberts has a chance to break the single-season receiving TD mark of 14 set by Lance Moore in 2004.

Corey Jones, WR/​PR, Pittsburgh: Jones is a speedy slot receiver who can break open a game with his speed. The 5-9, 165-pounder has 176 career catches for 2,050 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is also a threat in the return game. He was a first-team All-MAC pick in 2015 as a punt returner and was second-team All-MAC as a receiver his sophomore season in 2014.

Mike Ebert, OL, Sandusky, Ohio, and Paul Perschon, OL, Schaumburg, Ill.: Ebert, a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder from Perkins High School, and Perschon, 6-6 and 312 pounds, started every game last season at right tackle and left guard, respectively. Both players were part of an offensive line that allowed just five sacks in 411 pass attempts in 2015 and helped the team lead the MAC in rushing. Ebert has moved to guard this season and has missed two games because of injury. He and Perschon are key cogs in an offensive line that has helped UT become the top passing offense in the conference as well as the fourth-best run offense.

Damion Jones-Moore, RB, Pittsburgh: Jones-Moore is one of three running backs on this year’s UT roster with more than 1,000 career rushing yards. In nine games this season, Jones-Moore has 39 carries for 235 yards. In his career, Jones-Moore has 239 carries for 1,372 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. The 5-foot-7, 178-pounder rushed for a career-best 103 yards on 15 carries in the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl against Arkansas State.

Connery Swift, S, Waynesboro, Va.: Swift, a former running back at UVa-Wise, transitioned to defense after transferring to Toledo. Swift has had a breakout senior season, starting all 10 games this season and providing athleticism in the defensive backfield. Swift has recorded 45 tackles, two interceptions, and five pass breakups this season after coming into this season with 41 career tackles.

Nick Ellis, P, Pickerington, Ohio: Ellis has been a reliable punter for UT the past three seasons. This season, Ellis averages 43.0 yards per punt on 41 punts, including 12 downed inside the 20-yard line, with a career-long of 69 yards against Bowling Green. Ellis has been named the MAC West Special Teams Player of the Week three times in 2016. 

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

Ball State at Toledo

■ Time: 7 p.m.

■ Records: Ball State is 4-6, 1-5 in Mid-American Conference; Toledo is 8-2, 5-1 MAC

■ TV: ESPN2

■ Radio: 1370 AM

■ Series: Toledo leads 21-19-1

■ Favorite: Toledo by 20.5

■ Notes: Toledo beat Ball State 24-10 in Muncie, Ind., last season and holds a two-game winning streak in the series. ... Junior quarterback Logan Woodside leads the nation in touchdown passes with 37 and holds the UT single-season record after passing Bruce Gradkowski’s mark of 29 set in 2003 and ’05. ... Senior running back Kareem Hunt has 4,518 career rushing yards, which is second all-time at UT. He needs 332 yards to break Chester Taylor’s record of 4,849 yards. ... Senior tight end Michael Roberts has 12 TD catches this season, second all-time for a single season behind Lance Moore’s total of 14 in 2004. ... Toledo is one game behind Western Michigan in the MAC West. ... Toledo can earn at least a share of the division title and a trip to the MAC championship by defeating Ball Sate and Western Michigan to close out the season. ... Ball State is coming off a 48-41 home loss to Eastern Michigan. ... The Cardinals have lost three consecutive MAC games. Their lone conference win was a 31-21 victory at Buffalo. ... Ball State sophomore running back James Gilbert leads the MAC with 1,196 rushing yards.

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Tag(s): College  Toledo