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Published: Wednesday, 12/18/2002

Frosh, my gosh!

No truer words may ever pass through Astin Martin's mouth.

“If you want to win, you have to be deep,” the little running back with the big numbers was saying this week.

Depth has certainly been a key at the University of Toledo, where 12 freshmen have made significant contributions this football season.

“Woody Hayes used to say that for every freshman you played, you'd lose a game,” UT coach Tom Amstutz said. “Fortunately, we didn't go 0-12.”

Freshman Astin Martin is the speed back at 5-8, 180. He leads the Rockets with 754 rushing yards. Freshman Astin Martin is the speed back at 5-8, 180. He leads the Rockets with 754 rushing yards.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

Woody may have been wrong in the case of the Toledo Twelve, but that is a lot of newbies, especially for a team that had designs on winning yet another MAC West Division title, playing in another conference championship game and going to another bowl, all goals that the Rockets will realize upon their Dec. 26 Motor City Bowl date with Boston College.

“Normally, you don't get the chance to rebuild like that and win at the same time,” Amstutz said. “But our freshmen came in focused, took to coaching and gave us their best efforts.”

Nowhere is that more the case than at running back.

Chester Taylor, UT's all-time leader in rushing yards, touchdowns, points scored and a bunch of other stuff, graduated to the National Football League after last season.

Replacing him was going to be tough enough even for the back-in-waiting, William Bratton. Then, eight games into the season, the oft-ailing, oft-injured Bratton, who had been playing quite well with 80 yards per game and 10 touchdowns, was oft-again with a bum ankle.

So what did the Rockets do?

Well, they saddled up Trinity Dawson as the new starter, Astin Martin as his sidekick, and called a play every so often for Quinton Broussard, like Dawson and Martin a true freshman.

And how did they do?

The three rookies, operating behind one of the biggest lines in the country, combined for 1,707 yards and 21 touchdowns as their team won four straight to close the regular season. Look elsewhere for culprits in UT's loss to Marshall in the MAC title game. Dawson and Martin combined for 205 rushing yards, and Dawson set a frosh mark with four touchdown runs.

UT's baby backs, Amstutz calls them.

Dawson, who red-shirted a year ago, is the bruiser at 5-10, 180 pounds.

“Well, sort of,” he said, laughing. “I'm not the biggest guy, but I'm more likely to try to run over or through somebody than Astin.”

Martin is the speed back at 5-8, 180, according to the program.

“It's 5-8, 178,” Martin said with a straight face. “Yeah. That's it.”

OK, if he says so. Personally, we think Amstutz has leftovers that weigh more.

Dawson pokes you for four, five yards, a lot of first downs, does the dirty, close-in work. Martin gets two here, three there, then 58.

“I kill you slowly,” said Martin, from Grand Rapids, Mich. “I make my reads and get what I know I can get, but as the game goes on I study and I see how the defense plays ands reacts. Then I'll set them up for something and break one off.”

Martin leads the Rockets with 754 rushing yards and with a 5.8 yards-per-carry average. Dawson is right behind with 726 net yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns.

Dawson is from Tulsa, Okla., but his mom moved to the Detroit area during the summer before his senior year in high school.

“I wasn't sure I'd stay in Tulsa for my last year or move with her, so I went to a summer camp at Michigan so that coaches in this part of the country could see me,” he said.

One of them, of course, was Amstutz. Dawson ended up returning to Tulsa for his senior year, but the two, player and coach, didn't forget one another.

“You look at being asked to replace a Taylor or Bratton, those are some big shoes to fill, a big challenge,” Dawson said. “But I think Astin and I answered the challenge. I think we made the most of our opportunities.”

Added Martin: “You don't expect this much playing time as a freshman, but you always want it. The way we responded, I think it gives us a lot of confidence for the future. I don't think we can go any way but up, do anything but get better.”

That might be a scary thought for MAC opponents, these baby backs growing up. Because they're awfully explosive and productive right now. As mere toddlers.



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