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Published: 9/15/2006

Toledo Christian is 3-0; last season's favorite is delivering this season

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
From left, Derek Arnold, Jacob Weemes and Mark Rossol have helped get the Eagles off the ground this season. The defense has been strong, giving up just 19 points in three games. From left, Derek Arnold, Jacob Weemes and Mark Rossol have helped get the Eagles off the ground this season. The defense has been strong, giving up just 19 points in three games.
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The Toledo Christian football team wasn't among the preseason favorites to win the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.

One reason may have been because last season the Eagles, the preseason choice to earn the title, instead foundered to a 3-7 record and a middle-of-the-pack finish.

Throw in a change in coaching staff, and the skeptics had their reasons to doubt the Eagles this season.

But a 3-0 start has caused the doubters to rethink their position, and has the team believing anything is possible.

"The expectation [on the team] was to come out and win the TAAC - even though that was something a lot of people didn't think we could do," junior running back Derek Arnold said. "Right now we're just trying to play hard, mistake-free football. And we're having fun doing it, too."

Coach John Miller said he and his staff didn't begin this season with the goal of winning a specific number of games. Nor did the staff have any pre-conceived notions about the team.

"As a staff, we decided to not look back," Miller said. "At camp we told our players, 'The past is the past. We're going to move forward.' [As a staff] we just tried to give them our best to make them successful."

The most notable change came on offense. The Eagles switched from the spread to a two-back "I" formation, which has helped them grind out 450 rushing yards in the first three contests.

But a more noticeable change was a move to what the team calls "series football."

"Last year we would run a play, and if it worked we would run it again and again until it stopped working," senior two-way starter Mark Rossol said. "This year we're trying to have one play set up another play. We'll run a play to try and get a defender to do something that we can exploit."

Defensively the Eagles have been impressive, allowing just 19 points in their first three games and giving up an average of less than 200 yards.

Miller said the changes in the defensive scheme are more subtle.

"You'll still see a lot of the same looks - four-man fronts, five-man fronts - from us on defense," he said. "We just simplified the schemes to let the players play the game."

Another change was welcoming some new players into the program. One is senior Jacob Weemes, an all-league basketball player who now sees action at both tight end and linebacker.

"My plan was to not play football," Weemes admitted. "But about a month before the season began I realized I wanted to come out and hit somebody during my senior year.

"There's a good focus on team unity. We're focused on the team, not on individuals."

That focus was tested in the season opener against Libbey. Toledo Christian trailed 6-0 at the half but found a way to rally to a 14-12 victory, and Rossol said the coaching staff deserved credit for the second-half turnaround.

"This year we were a lot better prepared, both physically and mentally," Rossol said. "When we got down early in the first game, it was really big that we came back and won. In the past for TCS football, if we got behind early it was kind of a shutdown.

"Coming back gave us a boost."

Miller said there was no magic formula that helped the Eagles to their comeback victory.

"Halftime of the Libbey game, we weren't in a spot I expected to be in," Miller said. "When I stepped into the locker room, I just let them know my heart. They heard me and responded by playing a great second half."

And that second-half comeback has turned into a comeback of sorts for the program. Miller said both the players and coaches know there's still work to be done, but they also know anything is possible now.

"I've seen an attitude of believing. They believe in themselves, and they believe in us as coaches," Miller said. "We see the ball rolling, and we want to keep that momentum rolling."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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