Danny Molls played in all 12 games for Toledo last season. On Friday, he's expected to be on the field to start against Arizona.
After one of the first practices of the 2009 season at the University of Toledo, then-senior quarterback Aaron Opelt was asked which member of the team's freshman class had impressed him the most so far.
It was an easy answer for Opelt. He, of course, picked the kid on defense that had been giving him "fits back there" all afternoon, always chasing him down and making life difficult in the pocket for him.
Well, that kid is still chasing down quarterbacks and laying big hits on running backs, and he's also earned the respect of the coaching staff and the other Rockets.
Danny Molls, a 6-foot-1, 222-pound sophomore, has been tabbed throughout preseason practices as the projected starter at middle linebacker, one of the most crucial spots on the field for a defense.
"He's a very instinctive football player," UT co-defensive coordinator Mike Ward said. "He plays hard and plays with a lot of passion. He's got some football savviness about him."
Molls played in all 12 games for the Rockets last season and finished sixth on the team with 43 tackles. He also had one interception and tallied at least one tackle in every game.
"It was nice getting a little bit of time last year and getting my feet wet," said Molls, a native of North Royalton, Ohio, and a graduate of Padua Franciscan.
In UT coach Tim Beckman's 4-2-5 scheme, Molls is paired next to senior linebacker Archie Donald, which has taken some of the pressure off and has allowed him to shorten his learning curve.
"It's definitely comforting having somebody like that right next to me," Molls said. "I trust in the coaches and everyone on the defense that they're going to help me out if I need it. But really it's all about confidence, and I'm confident in my abilities to play."
Molls was one of several freshmen to see game action last season, and now that they're sophomores, the group has developed some nice cohesiveness, which should prove beneficial as time goes on.
Joining Molls as a sophomore starter on the defense will be cornerback Byron Best, defensive end T.J. Fatinikun, and strong safety Jermaine Robinson.
"Our young guys coming in last year, we're a very close group," Molls said. "There were a lot of us that got time, and that's fortunate for us because even though we weren't all necessarily starters last year, we all know what to expect at least. It's just nice that we're going to have guys that have been there and guys that we'll have in the future, and we can all work together for the next few years."
Molls said his only goal coming into the program last season was to make the travel squad, and he succeeded in doing that and more by becoming a valuable member in the rotation of linebackers.
Now, he's ready to tackle the role of being a starter.
"It's been a great experience," Molls said. "It's truly been a blessing for me to be here."