Throughout spring practices, University of Toledo football coach Tim Beckman maintained the Rockets' defense was ahead of the offense. He also said a few young defensive players, including safeties Isaiah Ballard and Jermaine Robinson, were catching the coaching staff's eye daily.
An estimated crowd of 2,500 last night at the Glass Bowl got to see Beckman's words proven correct at UT's spring game. The defense forced six turnovers, including five interceptions, in the Blue team's 20-14 win over the gold team.
Ballard and Robinson, both finishing off their first set of spring drills, each contributed a pick for the Blue team.
"You see them get better and better in practice," Beckman said. "They're learning how to be college football players and you can see their game getting better and better each week."
Ballard, a sophomore out of Rogers High School who played on special teams last year, is second on the depth chart at the "star" position. Robinson enrolled at UT in January and is the No. 1 free safety.
Ballard attributed his rise on the depth chart to simply following the team rules.
"You work hard, make plays and do things you're supposed to do," Ballard said. "They say it starts in the classroom."
Junior linebacker Archie Donald led the way with 18 tackles for the Gold team. For the Blue team, junior defensive end Alex Johnson had nine tackles and three sacks, although a sack consisted of merely touching the quarterback to ensure the health of D.J. Lenehan and Alex Pettee.
"The defense played hard," Robinson said. "We're finally bonding and getting together. It's a family thing. Our goal is to play as one."
UT fans saw Pettee play extensively for the first time because incumbent starter Aaron Opelt sat out the game with a shoulder injury. The junior from Santa Clarita, Calif., started for the victorious Blue team and completed 25 of 39 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. His favorite target was sophomore Kenny Stafford, who had five catches for 62 yards.
"With the new offense sometimes it takes a while to get going," Pettee said. "We're definitely meshing. I like that.
"Our whole goal was to go out and have fun. We've been busting our butts for five weeks. It was good to have a good crowd and get the Rocket tradition back."
Beckman felt both offenses gave up the ball too many times. Lenehan, a sophomore from Easton, Pa., threw three interceptions and was "sacked" five times.
"The game of football to me is all about takeaways," Beckman said. "You don't have them on offense and you get them on defense. I was glad for the defense, but not so happy for the offense."
The game featured several prominent former Rockets as guest coaches. Wasean Tait, who played from 1993-98 as the second-leading rusher in school history, said it was his first time back in the Glass Bowl in several years.
"I was shocked that [Beckman] called because he hasn't personally met us before," Tait said. "He's trying to get everybody involved in the organization. I think it's opening up the program. I think it's a great thing."
Contact Maureen Fulton at: