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BOISE — A reporter who traveled here to cover Utah State got more than he bargained for Thursday when he asked University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell about Dan Molls.
The basis of his question was the middle linebacker’s penchant for making tackles, as Molls leads the nation with 166.
Campbell’s response, as he often does when he fields inquiries about his star pupil, touched beyond what has transpired between the lines of the football field, registering on several levels as a profound endorsement for the All-Mid-American Conference performer.
"From day one, game one, he made an impact on our football program," Campbell said. "He’s a young man that what he does on the field is really a direct reflection of how hard he’s worked off the field. He’s been a tremendous leader in our program, he’s a guy that does everything right in the classroom, and he’s a guy who does everything right in the weight room."
Campbell loves talking about Molls, so he kept going, telling an oft-told story of how Molls makes an effort to win every sprint at practice.
"His leadership from a foundational standpoint has been unbelievable in our program," Campbell said. "I think a lot of that translated into the type of season he’s had for us."
In many ways Molls and Campbell are tethered to one another. It was Campbell, fresh off of being named Toledo’s offensive coordinator in late 2008, who persuaded Molls to de-commit from Ohio University and sign with the Rockets.
Their bond, which figures to extend for many years to come, will enter a new phase after Saturday when Molls plays his final collegiate game in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Molls, who will make his 33rd career start against Utah State, has produced a senior season that has cemented his legacy, in Campbell’s eyes, as one of the best players in program history. He was voted in the offseason by his peers to be one of six team captains.
The exercise science major was named first-team Academic All-America with a 3.63 grade-point average, becoming the first Rocket to earn that distinction since Lance Moore in 2004.
He led the team in tackles in all but one game — when he recorded the second most — and intercepted three passes. He is a lock to finish the year leading the nation in tackles, as the players who rank second through fourth will not play in a bowl game.
As for those 166 tackles — 86 of which were unassisted — Molls deflects praise onto his teammates.
"Most of the credit has to go to my defensive line," he said. "They do a great job of eating up bodies for me. It’s not something I’m thinking about. I’m just trying to go out there and make plays for our team and our defense."
Professional opportunities could await, though Molls might lack the ideal size (6-foot-1, 222 pounds) and speed to be drafted.
Campbell said this week that he has fielded inquiries from postseason all star games about Molls and senior safety Jermaine Robinson. Utah State coach Gary Andersen draws comparisons between Molls and 6-foot linebacker Bobby Wagner, a former Aggies star who is excelling as a rookie for the Seattle Seahawks.
"You look at Danny and you see what he’s done and he deserves comparisons to great players," Campbell said.
The Molls legacy at Toledo will live on after Saturday. Sophomore Carly Molls is a thrower on the Rockets’ track and field team, and like her brother, "is very athletic and tough," said coach Kevin Hadsell. She finished sixth in javelin last year at the MAC outdoor meet.
"It’s kind of nice having some family around," Molls said. "She’s definitely the best friend I have on campus."
With all due respect to Campbell, of course.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.