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There was one University of Toledo football player who didn't seem to have to improve much during the offseason. But according to coach Tom Amstutz, "the hardest he ever worked in his life was this summer."
Safety Barry Church practically walked onto the Glass Bowl turf his freshman year as an all-league player. Two straight years of first-team Mid-American Conference honors were followed this summer by lofty predictions from NFL draft analysts, even though he still has two more years of eligibility.
After UT held its first practice of the fall yesterday, Amstutz said Church improving is actually a big key to the defense because, "that's what's good about football, you either get better or you get worse, you don't stay the same."
"I'm going to ask Barry to work harder than anyone else," Amstutz said. "He has so much talent and so much skill, and two years of experience now, that I'm going to want him to be more of a dominating player.
"I'm going to want him to be a real impact on the field. I want him to take over some leadership roles. There's a lot he can improve on. Andy McCollum, a 15-year NFL player, has things he's working on to improve."
Church, a 6-foot-2, 219-pounder from Pittsburgh, had three interceptions and 92 tackles last season. In two years at UT he has 12 tackles for loss.
He said before fall camp started that he has specific parts of his game he has been working on in the offseason and will continue to do so in the preseason.
"I'd like to improve on my blitzing coming off the edge and also my man-to-man coverage," Church said. "I want to be able to lock down on a receiver."
CENTER OF ATTENTION: The Rockets are a little thin at center and have compensated for that by moving sophomore Nate Cole over from the defensive line.
"He played that in high school as well as defensive line," Amstutz said. "He looks good there right now for a possible move. He's responding well so far."
LOCAL TIES: Several local players are walking on this year. They include linebacker Ryan Ball (St. John's Jesuit), offensive lineman Jeff Chambers (Oak Harbor), defensive lineman Casey Meridieth (Northview), wide receiver Beau Norton (Whitmer), wide receiver Matt Rogers (Springfield) and free safety Jordan Kovacs (Clay).
Offensive lineman Devon McCreary from Whitmer walked on last year and redshirted. The 6-foot-2, 286-pound freshman is listed No. 2 on the depth chart at right guard behind Kevin Kowalski.
EXTRA POINTS: The Rockets practiced for about two hours on Carter Field in helmets and shorts yesterday. Today they have a morning practice before picture day. ... Quarterback Aaron Opelt has changed his jersey number to 11, the number he wore in high school at Fremont Ross. ... Junior-college transfer Daris Quinn was working with the first team at linebacker. "He has some real physical talents," Amstutz said. "Right now he looks like a guy who can help us." ... Former UT players Chris Hopkins and Andrew Hawkins were at practice. Hawkins hopes to sign with a Canadian Football League team, and Hopkins said he hopes to join an NFL team before the end of the preseason.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160.