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When Tim Beckman was named head football coach at the University of Toledo, he stood before the cameras and behind the microphones and spoke of academic excellence, of camaraderie, of competition, of citizenship, of his program forging a bond with the community, and of spreading the Rocket brand far and wide.
In other words, he said everything that every new coach says during those feel-good, still-undefeated introductions to the masses.
Sure, he put a wrinkle or two on the typical speech. He talked about how his players would be required to attend every class and always sit in the first two rows of seats. He talked about "encouragers" who would be hired to monitor attendance and adherence to the academic rules. He said his team would compete for the highest GPA in the athletic department and that those who achieved great things would realize great rewards.
And blah, blah, and blah. Anybody can talk the talk and Beckman definitely had it down pat.
"We'll do things right, and when things are done right it will have a direct correlation to winning football games," he said.
Talkin' the talk. But who knew if and when his team would walk the walk?
That was in December, 2008. Within days, the fall semester grades were in and Rocket football achieved a 2.370 team GPA. Beckman devised a color code - gold for high achievers, white for average achievers, and blue for
those on the brink of academic disaster - and there were about a dozen players with the blues when the fall grades came out.
This is June, 2009, and the spring grades have been reported. The athletic department announced that UT's football team compiled a 2.922 GPA, and Beckman said there is but one player still shaded blue.
Mike O'Brien, UT athletic director, said the football team posted results that were "immediate and dramatic."
I guess so. What's next? A 3-0 start against Purdue, Colorado, and Ohio State?
Well, let's not get carried away, although it's easy to do so when you consider what the tireless Beckman, his staff, and players have accomplished so far.
In a 20-day period from June 6-25, Beckman and his assistants conducted 21 camps, both team and individual, both on-campus and off. The off-campus day camps were staged at Ohio high schools in Strongsville, Steubenville, Lakota (near Cincinnati), and Kettering. A Michigan camp was held at Roosevelt High in Wyandotte, south of Detroit.
"A lot of kids came to us, and we went to a lot of kids," Beckman said. "We wanted to start building relationships with student-athletes and coaches, and to get the Toledo name out to them. We've seen and evaluated more than 2,000 athletes."
Beckman said he has visited every Glass Bowl suite-holder at his or her place of business. He and his assistant coaches split up a list of some 3,000 season ticket buyers and called each and every one to say thanks.
He separated his team into eight groups and, since the start of winter workouts, players have competed in everything, some activities fun and some not so fun, with academics being a big part of the mix. Points were awarded for every competition and, at the end of spring practice, players on the winning team ate steaks at a table with fine china. Everybody else sat on the floor and ate hot dogs off paper plates.
Beckman said the players with the highest GPAs and those with the greatest levels of improvement will be rewarded with prime locations in the locker room when they return for the start of preseason camp.
So, let's review: vast academic improvement, camaraderie, competition, spreading the word about UT, bonding with the community, and achievers being rewarded. It turns out Tim Beckman wasn't just talking the talk.
"It's all part of the whole plan that will directly affect how we play out there on the field and what the image will be of this football program," he said.
Now, about that 3-0 start
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