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Woodside, Gradkowski have a bond

11/21/2016, 12:49am EST
By BY DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Record-setting UT quarterbacks

Woodside, Gradkowski have a bond

Toledo’s Logan Woodside is inching toward the records of former quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. However, the junior wants more than anything to win a MAC championship. BLADE/LORI KING

It could be at Anthony Wayne or St. Francis or wherever there is an open gate. They train together at a field near you each offseason, the past author of the most prolific passing season in University of Toledo history schooling — maybe too well — the current one. 

During one such session this summer, Rockets quarterback Logan Woodside poked his buddy. 

“I’m coming for your records,” he said. 

Bruce Gradkowski laughed. 

“Well,” he remembered replying, “there’s a lot of them, you know.”

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Eighteen school marks, to be exact. Season passing yards (3,518). Career touchdown throws (85). The list ran on. 

Woodside was impressed. He also might as well have responded, “Your point?” 

The two-star recruit from Frankfort, Ky., is coming, all right. Already, with up to three games remaining in his junior season, Woodside not only has zipped past Gradkowski’s major single-season records — he has passed for 3,653 yards and a national-best 40 touchdowns — but he is on pace to redraft his career ones. 

What’s all left to accomplish?

Start with everything. 

“Bruce always hangs it over my head that he won a MAC championship,” Woodside said, smiling.  

There is no time like today to join that elusive club. 

With an upset win Friday at 14th-ranked Western Michigan, Toledo (9-2, 6-1) would capture their first MAC West championship since Gradkowski was still the Big Man on Dorr Street. 

Gradkowski is now married with two children, an 11-year NFL veteran and a restaurant owner. It’s been that long.  

Are the Rockets in for another good but ultimately unfulfilled season? Or can they rewrite the script and party like it’s 2004, when Gradkowski threw four touchdown passes in the Rockets’ 35-27 win against Miami in the MAC title game.

Woodside said he often has talked to his mentor about elevating the Rockets’ program to the next level. 

All the big numbers are great. Really, they are. Complemented by a veteran line and star running back Kareem Hunt headlining a deep reserve of playmakers, Woodside is the best player nobody nationally is talking about. He’s sharp, accurate, a dedicated worker, the full package as a MAC quarterback. Woodside was notified by the Heisman Trophy Trust last week he is a ”contender” for college football’s top prize. 

His legacy will not be on the line against the Broncos. For one, he does not play defense, and no single game fully tells the story of a season. For another, he will be back next year. 

Yet with that fluff out of the way, Woodside knows what is at stake. If he wants to be remembered as an all-time great at Toledo, his Rockets must win when it matters most. 

“[Gradkowski] doesn’t really care about the records, and I don’t either,” Woodside said. “At the end of the day, this university and this school wants a MAC championship and that’s something as a quarterback you try to bring. That’s ultimately where you leave your legacy.”

The Rockets are in an interesting spot as a 9½-point underdog. 

For so long, they have been the favorites, picked by the media to win the MAC West four of the past five seasons. They are the program that cries wolf, their annual tease giving way to the same old tightening vise of November pressure. Last year, the Rockets needed only a win against eight-point underdog Western Michigan in its Black Friday finale to win the division and again, they showed they can’t have nice things. 

This year, the roles are swapped. Perhaps it would only be fitting if this of all seasons ends brings closure to the Rockets’ confounding drought. 

“There are a lot of guys in this locker room that have been the underdog their entire life and I think they relish that role,” coach Jason Candle said. “I’m happy with the position we’re in.”

Woodside agreed. He came to Toledo without any major-conference scholarship offers, then was nudged aside when former blue-chip quarterback Phillip Ely transferred in from Alabama. 

The story is well-documented, but rather than lose heart after redshirting last season, he responded this fall by putting up numbers nobody in Toledo has seen. 

Numbers that could mean more come Friday. 

“Just like when I went to Toledo, it’s about the guys that have come before you and laid the foundation of how things should be done,” Gradkowski said by phone from Pittsburgh, where he began the season with the Steelers. ”That’s what playing for Toledo is about. You win MAC championships. So the next couple of weeks is important to really put a stamp on Logan’s legacy.”

As for Woodside taking a red pen to all of those records?

“I guess they’re made to be broken,” Gradkowski said. “I’m happy it’s Logan.”

■ And our weekly AP Top 25 vote: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Michigan, 4. Clemson, 5. Oklahoma, 6. Wisconsin, 7. Washington, 8. Penn State, 9. Colorado, 10. Houston, 11. Western Michigan, 12. Florida, 13. Southern California, 14. Louisville, 15. Oklahoma State, 16. Florida State, 17. Nebraska, 18. Auburn, 19. Boise State, 20. West Virginia, 21. Pittsburgh, 22. Utah, 23. Navy, 24. Washington State, 25. Virginia Tech. 

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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