When the University of Toledo opens the 2006 football season Thursday night at Iowa State there will be nine true freshmen on the top two rungs of the depth chart and six who are certain to get playing time.
One of those six is Alex Steigerwald, who has won the place-kicking job. The other five are defensive players.
"That's a real good class to be able to help our team that fast," said coach Tom Amstutz. "Usually, it's one or two guys out of a recruiting class that are ready to play in the opener."
Would it be fair to say that there are more opportunities than usual, especially on the defensive side where five key starters were lost from last season's team?
"No, I wouldn't necessarily say that," countered Amstutz. "I would say our best players play and we have more quality, first-year players."
He'll get no argument from defensive coordinator Tim Rose, who has coached at nine colleges, including Minnesota and Boston College.
"I can't remember a better class at the level they were recruited at," Rose said.
Safety Barry Church, inside linebacker Archie Donald, end Doug Westbrook and cornerbacks Greg Harris and Desmond Marrow will all play for UT's defense on Thursday night, according to Amstutz.
Church and Donald are the latest to travel the pipeline from Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh to UT.
It's the same school that produced All-MAC cornerback Brandon Hefflin (2000-02) and current free safety and captain Tyrrell Herbert.
Harris is from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., by way of Trinity Pawling (Mass.) Prep, where he was a two-way standout. Marrow, the nephew of one-time UT tight end Vince Marrow, an All-MAC selection in 1991, was Ohio's Division IV defensive player of the year at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, where he had 10 interceptions as a senior. Westbrook had 18.5 sacks as a senior at Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Fla.
"It's hard to talk about how good people are when you haven't played a game," Rose said. "But given what they've all done to this time, they've matched or exceeded our expectations. They were all here working out over the summer, which was a key. They're all very smart and teachable.
"You do have concerns with inexperience, but there's a lot of ability to counter that. And one of my philosophies has always been to play a lot of people. If you have a lot of players who are somewhat close in ability, which we do, and if you play a lot of them, you tend to get great effort in short spurts."
There are three true freshmen in the playing rotation on offense, although Amstutz would not guarantee that any or all of them would be on the field Thursday.
Aaron Opelt from Fremont Ross is No. 2 behind Clint Cochran at quarterback; 6-foot-6, 305-pound Jan Gewont is backing up starting tackles John Greco and Greg Luna; 6-4, 295-pounder Jared DeWalt is playing behind new starter Jesse Anderson at right guard. Also, while not in the two-deep, Matt Fought, an Ottawa-Glandorf product, is battling for playing time at tight end, one of the Rockets' deepest positions.
Keeping with the youth movement, UT will have two redshirt freshmen - inside linebacker Eric Heller and safety Lester Richmond - starting for the first time on defense. The other starting inside linebacker, Keith Forestal, is a sophomore who was never redshirted.
That young crew will go from the frying pan right into the fire on the road against an Iowa State team that returns 10 offensive starters.
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