PHOTO GALLERY

Rockets create their own heat with fall camp kickoff

Toledo chosen to win Mid-American Conference crown

8/4/2011
BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Fiercely determined running back David Fluellen takes a handoff from partially hidden quarterback David Pasquale during the first practice of fall football camp at the Glass Bowl Wednesday.
Fiercely determined running back David Fluellen takes a handoff from partially hidden quarterback David Pasquale during the first practice of fall football camp at the Glass Bowl Wednesday.

There weren't any noticeable differences Wednesday as the University of Toledo football team opened its third fall training camp under coach Tim Beckman.

The Rockets were still dressed in their usual practice uniforms -- offense in all midnight blue and defense in white tops and blue bottoms -- and were just as enthusiastic as their head coach to get the ball rolling on a new season.

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Yet in so many ways, this year is different for UT.

For starters, the Rockets were picked as the preseason favorite to win the Mid-American Conference title, something they haven't accomplished in seven years. They're also coming off an appearance in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl after posting a winning season for the first time in five years.

A four-year run that saw UT lose 12 more games than it won from 2006-09 seems to be in the rearview mirror, and instead of using words like "rebuilding" and "sneaking up on people," the Rockets are now addressing questions about "lofty expectations" and talking about winning championships.

"It is a good feeling, there's no question, but we still haven't completed our ultimate goals, which are to be a champ and to win a bowl game," Beckman said. "Those two goals are very important in this program, and we're going to continue to build it so that we make sure we get those goals taken care of."

UT head coach Tim Beckman keeps everyone in sync Wednesday.
UT head coach Tim Beckman keeps everyone in sync Wednesday.

Beckman realizes that being picked to win the conference is another step on the pathway to becoming a perennial contender for championships and bowl bids.

"When you try to build this program, that's what we hope happens for us every year so we continue to build the respect of this great tradition at UT," he said.

At the same time, Beckman has cautioned his players of not resting on empty awards like "preseason favorite."

"Preseason means nothing," he said. "It's all about postseason, and that's what we've stressed to them and talked to them about."

TWO-A-DAYS: Beckman and his coaching staff went through their first two-a-day practices at the Glass Bowl Wednesday, although their players did not.

The team was divided into two separate squads, with one group practicing in the morning and the other practicing last evening. The Rockets will remain divided until Saturday, when they will conduct their first full-squad workout.

"Because of the way we're practicing, it gives our freshmen an opportunity to get more coaching in a one-on-one situation," Beckman said. "We start back with the basics. We talk about blocking, you talk about tackling, you talk about catching -- the things that are always going to create success on the football field. You get back to the basics and start from Day 1."

Quarterback Terrance Owens takes a snap during practice Wednesday in the UT Glass Bowl. The Rockets have been projected to take the MAC title this fall.
Quarterback Terrance Owens takes a snap during practice Wednesday in the UT Glass Bowl. The Rockets have been projected to take the MAC title this fall.

PRACTICE ABSENCES: Freshman wide receiver Alonzo Russell was not present at either of Wednesday's practices because he has been declared academically ineligible for the 2011 season, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Russell will have to pay his own way at UT this fall as he works to get his academics in order during the fall semester. His eligibility clock won't start until he goes on scholarship, with the possibility of that occurring in the spring semester.

Rated as a three-star recruit from Milford (N.Y.) Academy, Russell (6-4, 190) originally gave a verbal commitment to Virginia Tech but ended up signing a national letter of intent last spring to play at Toledo.

Other incoming freshmen missing from Wednesday's practices were running backs Antwan Gilbert and Robert Walton and defensive lineman Matt Neal. All three are expected to gray-shirt this season and then join the Rockets for winter workouts.

Sandusky Perkins' Ebert chooses UT

The University of Toledo football program has received its ninth commitment for the 2012 recruiting class.

Tight end Mike Ebert of Sandusky Perkins gave UT coach Tim Beckman a nonbinding verbal pledge Tuesday to play for the Rockets.

Ebert (6-6, 245), a two-star recruit who also plays defensive end, previously gave a verbal commitment to play for Miami (Ohio) but decided to switch his loyalty to Toledo.

Per NCAA rules, Beckman is not permitted to comment on any incoming recruits until they sign a national letter of intent.

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084