ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
WASHINGTON -- The rhythmic thumping of hip-hop music and the hooting and hollering of 105 football players pouring from the University of Toledo's locker room at RFK Stadium could signal just one thing: Matt Campbell was inside cutting a rug, and his players were loving every minute of it.
The Rockets had plenty to celebrate Wednesday night following their 42-41 victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl. First and foremost, it was Campbell's first victory as a head coach and Toledo's first bowl win since the 2005 GMAC Bowl.
"This football team has been through a lot this year," Campbell said, "and the one word I would use to describe this team is resilient. We've had our backs against the wall at times all year.
"When we were 1-3, we thought we were the best 1-3 team in the country, and easily at that point I think the tide could have turned. Instead we had 21 seniors in this football program that demanded that we get ourselves back on track.
"And then to run through the season like we did. We had some injuries in the early part of November, and we had a tough loss versus Northern Illinois, and I think we could have easily folded our tents. But instead these young men kept believing."
The Rockets faced one of the biggest hurdles of the year earlier this month when former coach Tim Beckman left to accept the same position with Illinois.
"I know there's been a lot said about what's happened with coach Beckman leaving," Campbell said. "To be honest with you guys, I don't think it was ever a thought in our young men's minds. Our coaching staff moved on, our kids moved on, and we did a great job of understanding the opportunity at hand. And the opportunity at hand was to win a bowl game, and we got a chance to do that."
As part of the first senior class in six years to go out as winners, running back Adonis Thomas savored the accomplishment.
"It's special because we broke a trend under coach Beck," he said. "His first two senior classes that he had while he was coaching here -- 5-7 [in 2009] and then going to the Little Caesars Bowl [last year] and losing in a heart-breaker to FIU.
"Coach Campbell took over and he instilled something new in us -- the resiliency not to give up and not to feel defeated."
Although Campbell said frequently in the weeks leading up to the Military Bowl that his concern was on making sure the Rockets were focused on the future and prepared to play Air Force, several of his players said after the game that they were playing for their new head coach.
"This means everything to me for coach Campbell," said sophomore wide receiver Bernard Reedy, who was named Military Bowl MVP after making four catches for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
"With our previous coach leaving, it was a big momentum drop. And then for us to go out and win for coach Campbell, that brought the [morale] back up."
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @ZachSilka.