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Responsibility about to expand for Toledo football trio

07/14/2017, 12:22am EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Seniors hope to lead Rockets to memorable campaign

University of Toledo senior running back Terry Swanson has waited patiently his whole career for the opportunity to be a lead back.

For the past three years, he has operated in the shadow of Toledo’s all-time leading rusher, Kareem Hunt. Now Swanson can prove he can handle a bulk of the carries.

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“It’s going to be exciting,” Swanson said. “This is something I’ve been waiting for for a long time here. This last year is going to be a special year. My role has changed, and I know what I have to do. I just have to approach it each day like that.”

Playing with an NFL-caliber running back has limited Swanson’s role a bit during the past three years, but he has still shown elite ability when called upon. In his sophomore year, Swanson carried the ball 143 times for 923 yards on his way to second-team All-Mid-American Conference honors. He has 2,238 career rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

Swanson says he was happy to see Hunt drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and points out that it already feels different without Hunt around team activities.

“It definitely was exciting to see that, and I’m proud of him,” Swanson said. “I’m just thankful to be able to work with the guy day in and day out and see how he put in that work to get to where he is at.

“He has a great personality, and he just attracts people around him. I’m going to miss him, but things have to go on.”

With a stable of young backs behind Swanson on the depth chart, he hopes to provide the kind of leadership qualities that he was able to learn in his first three years at UT.

“Just like guys like Kareem and Damion Jones-Moore did for me, they walked me through the steps of how to become a good running back, and that is what I’m going to do for the younger guys,” Swanson said.

Swanson believes his well-rounded skill set will serve him well in his featured role.

“I’m a slasher and someone who can do it all,” Swanson said. “I can run, catch, and block, and contribute in all aspects of the game. I’m definitely ready. I feel like I can do everything as a running back, and it’s going to be an exciting year.”

Swanson is just one example of a UT senior who is prepared to step into a larger role this season.

NKANSAH SHIFTS TO BLIND SIDE: Senior offensive lineman Elijah Nkansah said he doesn’t feel any added pressure as he shifts to the role of protecting quarterback Logan Woodside’s blind side this season.

Nkansah, who has played 21 games the past two seasons at right tackle, will move to left tackle this season after the departure of all-conference performer Storm Norton.

“I don’t see it as an added responsibility,” Nkansah said of the position shift. “I know Logan knows that I am going to do my best to protect him, and he knows that I expect him — and we all expect him — to get us in the right play and do his best. I have nothing but trust in him. I know that he’s going to do his job, and he knows we’ll do our job.”

Nkansah said he already has some experience playing left tackle, and the Rockets’ offensive linemen all take pride in being able to play multiple positions when needed.

“The biggest difference is probably in the stance,” Nkansah said of playing left tackle. “We pride ourselves on having everyone able to rotate at really any position.

“I have played left tackle before, so it wasn’t really a big change. I like it, and I’m just doing whatever I can to help my team.”

On an offensive line that graduated starters in Norton, Paul Perschon, and Mike Ebert, Nkansah is ready to take a more vocal approach as one of the veterans.

“Me and Brant Weiss and Nate Jeppesen are the veterans on the offensive line now, and we are trying to get everybody together,” Nkansah said.

“Storm, Paul, and Mike were such great leaders in that room. They left kind of like a rule book on how to do everything, and not one of them did it wrong. It was just easy to follow.”

Nkansah will follow the example set by Norton as he is counted upon at a new role.

“I learned great technique and always playing hard until the whistle,” Nkansah said. “He cared a lot about this team and he put it all out on the line for any of us out on the field.”

With spring practices done and summer workouts underway, Nkansah said he is trying to savor every step during his senior season.

“It’s definitely a different feeling,” he said. “It feels like everything is going a lot quicker. You just have to try to enjoy every moment, because one day it’s going to [be] the last game and then you are going out into the real world.”

MOORE SET FOR MORE: Senior Marquise Moore learned a lot from his good friend and fellow defensive tackle Treyvon Hester.

Now that Hester is in the NFL, Moore hopes to carry the torch as the leader of the Rockets’ defensive line.

“He really played the senior leadership role last year,” Moore said. “I want to be the one that will be able to step in and take that part this year. I really learned a lot from him and I want my peers to learn a lot from me.

“This is my fifth year being here, so I have to be a leader, and I’m taking the leadership role.”

Moore, a Whitmer High graduate, played 12 games as a freshman, recording 26 tackles and two sacks.

After an injury cut his 2014 season short, Moore played mostly as a backup in 2015. As a junior last season, he started the last 11 games and tallied 36 tackles.

Moore admits this offseason has taken on a much different feel for him in his fifth year.

“I approach it differently because I know I have people looking up to me and I have to lead by example,” Moore said. “I have to set the example for everybody else, and I want everybody to follow me.”

Moore said he has enjoyed his time at with the Rockets, and that he is especially thankful to be able to share the experience with his family.

“It’s been great,” Moore said. “There’s been a lot of love being in my hometown city. I get to see my family every day and not a lot of people get to do that.”

After an injury took away most of his 2014 season, Moore said he isn’t taking anything for granted during his senior season.

“You never know when it’s the last game you are going to play,” Moore said. “My sophomore year I got hurt.

“You never know when something like that is going to happen, so I just treat it like that every day.”

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

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From left, Toledo seniors Marquise Moore, Elijah Nkansah, and Terry Swanson are expected to take on larger leadership roles this fall. The Rockets open the season against Elon on Aug. 31 at the Glass Bowl. BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY

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