Tuzar Skipper forced a fourth-quarter fumble for Toledo's defense, helping to ice a 37-24 win over Nevada on Saturday. BLADE PHOTO
After transferring to the University of Toledo last season from Monroe College in New York, defensive end Tuzar Skipper was quickly introduced to what he calls the “dog mentality.”
So what is the dog mentality?
“The dog mentality is basically never letting someone outwork you,” Skipper said. “You are always outworking the next man in front of you, even your teammates. It’s the first one in the weight room and the last one out type of deal. First one on the field, last one off type of thing. It’s just basically just leaving it all out there and doing whatever you can to better yourself and the team.”
Making the transition from junior college to Division I was eye-opening for Skipper. He played behind senior All-Mid-American Conference selection John Stepec last season. There were no John Stepecs at Monroe College, so Skipper did his best to learn from the talented defensive end.
“I learned a lot,” Skipper said. “I had a straight dog in front of me named John Stepec, No. 10. I tried to learn as much as I possibly can from him to help me out this year. I knew that once he was gone, I was going to have to step up. I had to take the same dog mentality that he had and use it my way and turn myself into a dog. So I basically learned how to prepare before a game, how to watch film, and how to take care of my body.
“Because John Stepec, he went all 12 regular games in the season and then the extra bowl game. So I was like, ‘I want to be that guy.’ His body didn’t break down, so I don’t want my body to break down. So whatever he is doing must be working.”
Skipper contributed to last season’s defensive effort with 22 tackles and one tackle for loss in the 12 games in which he appeared. This season, as he continues to adjust to the Division I game, more is expected of him.
“He has a great opportunity to be a difference-maker,” UT defensive coordinator Brian George said. “He’s a strong, explosive guy.
“He’s still learning the game, and as he continues to learn, he’ll continue to get better and better as the games and the weeks go on. Hopefully once we get to the point where we are in the conference season, he will really be hitting his full stride and really be a weapon for us.”
George said he is excited about the growth Skipper has shown in his short time at Toledo.
“Tuzar has grown up a lot in the last year and a half that he’s been here at Toledo,” George said. “I think it’s been an eye-opening experience for him in a lot of different ways in terms of the challenges both academically and on the field. I think mentally it’s been a lot more challenging, but it has also been a chance for him to grow and he’s taken it every step of the way.”
Monroe College was just in its third year of having a program when Skipper went there. The switch from a relatively new junior college to a program and university with the history of Toledo was a bit of a challenge for Skipper at first.
“The transition of JUCO to a Division I school is pretty big,” Skipper said. “You are not going to a community college; you are now going to a university. You are going from 5,000 people to maybe 20,000 and things like that. It’s a big change, but I was able to adapt to it, and luckily it worked.”
Skipper, who grew up in Norwich, Conn., was second team all-conference in both seasons at Monroe College. He said his journey to Toledo may be a bit different than other players, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I knew I had a second opportunity and that was going to junior college,” Skipper said. “Most people don’t get that second opportunity.
“I didn’t get the first opportunity, and that is to go straight to a university right out of high school. I didn’t have that opportunity, so it’s again the work ethic and just putting your head down and grinding and doing what you can to make the team better.”
Skipper’s first career sack — a sack and forced fumble at Nevada — was memorable. It happened at a crucial point of the game, just as the Wolf Pack was making a move to get back into the game.
With Stepec now graduated, Skipper is the starter at defensive end opposite junior Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
“It is a big opportunity coming in and getting the No. 1 spot,” Skipper said. “I had to work for it. It didn’t start this year, it started last year when I got here. I just put my head down and kept working and whatever the coaches wanted me to do, I did it. It was just work, work, work, that is it.”