As pleased as Tom Amstutz was over the weekend to hear from Kenny Stafford, he couldn't help but let the coach in him show a little.
Stafford, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver from Columbus DeSales, called the University of Toledo's coach on Sunday to inform him that the late offer from Nebraska hadn't worked and he was signing with the Rockets.
"I told him I was going to run him a bit for keeping me in suspense for so long," Amstutz said yesterday.
Amstutz and the Rockets were not afraid to compete with the BCS schools for players, knowing they couldn't win every battle but would make their case.
In Stafford's case, it worked. Another player, running back Carlton Jones from Tampa, left the Rockets with a bitter taste in their mouths yesterday morning. Jones placed two hats with UT and Florida State logos in front of him at a news conference and proceeded to place the Seminoles cap on his head.
Recruiting season has its peaks and valleys, but Amstutz was upbeat on the day he called his "Christmas," the first day schools can sign recruits to letters-of-intent.
"We really took our time and worked at it," Amstutz said of the class. "We really dug in and traveled and did whatever we had to do to get the best players across the country."
The Rockets announced the signings of 23 players yesterday, 13 of them defensive players. Amstutz said he expects as many as 12 players in the group could play next season.
"Our recruiting this year started with defensive players," Amstutz said. "We needed some defensive guys to come in and give us some help, some depth. We're excited by the group of guys that we got, athletic guys that can run and make plays."
That includes Rogers' Isaiah Ballard, who played both ways in high school but will be in the defensive backfield for the Rockets.
"I always want to look into Toledo first, find a player in town and give him a chance to play," Amstutz said. "He'll get out there and do whatever the team needs to be done. He can return a kick, make a block, cover punts and kickoffs. He's going to be on the field, I really believe that."
Another player who thought about playing at a BCS school but is coming to UT is defensive back Jermaine Robinson out of Pittsburgh's Brashear High. Robinson, the No. 17 player in Pennsylvania as rated by Rivals.com, originally committed to West Virginia but with the coaching change re-opened his recruitment.
Some of the biggest "gets" in the class are on offense, though. Along with Stafford, the Rockets signed receiver Sam Gaymon, who Scout.com ranked as the No. 12 player in Michigan. UT also signed four offensive linemen.
Although the Rockets signed two quarterbacks in last year's class, they did so again this year. That's because Travaris Cadet, who led UT's scout team last year as a freshman, has left school.
QB signee David Pasquale from Cape Coral, Fla., passed for 1,847 yards and 14 touchdowns his senior year, and also rushed for 629 yards and 14 scores. The other, Alex Pettee from Santa Clarita, Calif., was an honorable mention junior-college All-American.
"Both the kids have great personalities and will be really good in leadership roles," Amstutz said. "They'll provide some really needed depth. They'll challenge and show what their abilities are."
One recruit, offensive lineman Phillip Manley of Hamilton, Ohio, signed his UT letter with several other athletes from the Greater Miami Conference at a local convention center yesterday. Manley had originally committed to Miami University but changed his mind last month.
"It felt better to me up at Toledo," Manley said. "The atmosphere, the way the people treated me up there, the whole community."
Manley has already heard stories about offensive line coach Stan Clayton, who can be quite vocal at practice.
"I love that man," Manley said. "He's a great coach. He'll push me to the next level."
The Rockets aren't done recruiting. They can fill two more scholarships and hope to do so in the next few weeks. One will be used on a punter to replace Ray Guy finalist Brett Kern.
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