It was early December, 2008, and the new coaching staff at the University of Toledo had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.
National signing day was only two months away, and Tim Beckman and his assistants had to build a recruiting class from the ground up after inheriting just two verbal commitments from the previous regime. All of the variables were in place for a messy finish. Coaching changes rarely yield positive results in recruiting — at least initially — and the program was trending downward following a third straight losing season.
All of that fuss was unfounded.
Four years later, a class considered mediocre by Mid-American Conference standards, is being heralded as saviors. Six of the 18 seniors who will suit up today at 7 p.m. against Akron for their final regular season game were part of that critical 2009 group that brought Toledo back to relevance.
"They’ve made a monumental imprint on the foundation of Toledo football, not only now but for the long future ahead of it," coach Matt Campbell, a key recruiter under Beckman, said last week.
The class delivered several game-changers, including quarterbacks Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin, linebacker Dan Molls, center Zac Kerin, defensive ends T.J. Fatinikun, Christian Smith, and Ben Pike, and former Rockets receiver Eric Page. Fourth-year juniors Owens, Kerin, and Smith will be back next season.
"It has been outstanding, not only from a player standpoint of what their skill is on the field, but what their leadership ability is and the type of character we have gotten," Campbell said. "It’s going to be a tough day for me."
Page and quarterback Austin Boucher, who de-committed and signed with Miami, were the only recruits on board when the coaching change occurred. The new staff worked fast to secure talent, using preexisting relationships developed at their previous jobs to make up for lost time. Campbell, who came from Bowling Green, helped convince Fatinikun, a Falcons commit, to follow him. He also helped land Molls, who was ticketed to Ohio University. Former Rockets offensive assistant Scott Satterfield had been recruiting Dantin at Appalachian State.
"Obviously, there’s a lot of great players in that class," said defensive end Hank Keighley, a fifth-year senior who was a member of the 2008 class. "Certain guys like Molls, like Page, like Kerin, it’s hard not to notice special attributes that those guys possess. You could tell early they would be special players."
Toledo’s seniors, who have gone 30-19, will likely secure a third consecutive bowl berth with a win against the Zips. The Rockets (8-3, 5-2 MAC) are an 18.5-point favorite over Akron (1-10, 0-7).
Those to be honored today are an eclectic bunch. Six came from the 2009 class, and five are part of the 2008 class; three began their career as a walk-on; two began their career at a junior college; and one, tight end Cordale Scott, transferred into the program.
It can be debated where to put Jermaine Robinson. The fourth-year safety signed with Toledo in 2008 but delayed enrolling by a year.
The fifth-year seniors, a group consisting of Keighley, Danny Farr, Sam Gaymon, David Pasquale, and Mark Singer, played for three head coaches. They too hold a place in Toledo lore.
"I think one thing that defines our class is we’re very persistent," Keighley said. "I feel like that group is a very tough group. We’ve been through a lot together. It’s made us a close-knit group."
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