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Candle, UT football not yet satisfied

03/30/2017, 12:15am EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Coach evaluates Rockets roster, aims to fill voids in spring practice


Toledo football coach Jason Candle went 9-4 in his first season with the Rockets, who finished second in the Mid-American Conference West Division before losing to Appalachian State in the Camellia Bowl. BLADE

Entering his second season as head coach and fresh off signing a new contract extension through the 2021 season, University of Toledo football coach Jason Candle is excited with the state of the program at this point, but said he can never be completely satisfied.

“You are never as good as you want to be,” Candle said. “You are always striving to be better. You want today to be better than yesterday, and you want tomorrow to be better than today. That’s just the nature of college football coaches.

“Are there a lot of foundational things in place for us to be very successful? Sure. Do we have a lot of work in front of us to get to be a championship caliber team? Absolutely.”

Candle and the Rockets are coming off a 9-4 season, which saw them finish second in the Mid-American Conference West Division behind Western Michigan before falling to Appalachian State in the Camellia Bowl.

With a lot of senior talent moving on from that team, Candle is looking forward to seeing who will seize the opportunity to pick up where last year’s seniors left off.

“Every year is different,” Candle said. “As you turn the page you lose great players. At this time last year, I was really excited to watch Logan Woodside, because everybody was questioning what we were going to do without Phillip Ely. You can look at almost any position and we lost a great senior, whether that is DeJuan Rogers, Treyvon Hester, John Stepec, Mike Roberts, or Kareem Hunt.

“Any of these guys had storied careers here, and they are moving on. We wish them all the best, and we know they will have tremendous success, but I’m excited about watching the guys who are getting to fill those shoes and watching them grow into their own.

“I’m excited to watch their coaches continue to develop our young people.”

Candle and his coaching staff have had a chance to evaluate some of those players during spring practices, which started early this season for Toledo and wrapped up with a final practice in the Glass Bowl on Saturday.

“We’re starting to find an identity of who we are,” Candle said. 

“I think practicing early gave us a clear picture of what our team is going to look like and identified some areas of need and some areas that require some more attention than others.

“It’s been a great spring with a lot of competitive days, and a lot of guys have surfaced and proven that they are ready to take the next step in their career.

“But we still have a long way to go. We are certainly not a finished product yet.”

Candle said he has been impressed with guys like seniors in Woodside, Cody Thompson, Trevon Mathis, Ja’Waun Woodley, Marquise Moore, Elijah Nkansah, and Brant Weiss and their potential to be great leaders for this team.

“Those guys are seniors and those guys have played a lot of football for us,” Candle said. “You are hoping to see signs of great leadership and signs of maturity on your football team. I think we are headed in that direction.

“To have the expectations and the goals that we have each and every year, I think you have to have the work ethic to match that. I’m really finding out that this team, up to this point in time, they are willing to do that, which is certainly encouraging.”

With a record-setting passing game returning most of its key cogs in Woodside, Thompson, Jon’Vea Johnson, and a deep group of talented wide receivers, Candle says the running game and run defense was a big emphasis this spring.

“We really went to work on our running game and stopping the run,” Candle said. “I think those are two areas of need that needed to be addressed and I think we are improving in those areas. To be a great football team and win in November and December in northwest Ohio, you have to be able to run the ball and you have to be able to stop the run. We understand that.”

After going into spring practice last season with almost an entirely new staff, Candle said it is nice to have most of his assistant coaches back from last season. The Rockets have a new receivers coach in Mike Bellamy and a new cornerbacks coach in Hank Poteat, but they bring back offensive coordinator Brian Wright and defensive coordinator Brian George as well as most of their position coaches.

“The staff continuity, that is huge,” Candle said. “In any successful organization or any successful business, there is an understanding of the expectation of what each and every day looks like and what success looks like. I think this group gets that and that is certainly a starting point. You are not spending all of your time trying to teach coaches what the culture is and what the daily routine looks like.

“There is a different vibe with the players in year two than there was in year one, just because there has been more opportunity to interact with each other and I think that goes a long way in building trust. We are a relationship- built program. When you don’t know somebody and you are just getting to know somebody, sometimes it’s hard to pour everything all in. I think our guys are starting to do that because of the relationships our coaches have been able to form.”

Candle recently received a contract extension through the 2021 season, a sign that the administration at Toledo is confident with the way he and his staff are leading this program.

“I’m very fortunate to be at a university that I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Candle said. “I appreciate the confidence that Dr. [Sharon] Gaber and Mike O’Brien have in myself and this coaching staff. It has been a place that has treated me well for a long time now.

“I think this is a special place and a special city. It’s a great fan base. It’s people I have a tremendous amount of respect for with their work ethic and their drive and their passion to be great at what they do.”

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

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