Kyler Koopmans, 5, of Toledo, high-fives UT defensive lineman Marquise Moore after getting an autograph during Fan Appreciation Day at the Glass Bowl.
Marquise Moore’s coaches boasted for months of stealing the talented defensive lineman from bigger college programs.
Moore proved them right by stealing a starting job.
In perhaps the most surprising news of an otherwise tame preseason, University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell on Saturday revealed the true freshman from Whitmer is on a fast track to starting the season opener in two weeks.
PHOTO GALLERY: UT practices on Fan Appreciation Day
Moore, who terrorized offensive linemen in high school, apparently has done the same in his initial weeks at college, overtaking a slew of returning players on the depth chart and solidifying himself as the team’s top available defensive tackle.
“Every day he’s going to do something that makes you say, ‘Wow,’ ” defensive line coach Eli Rasheed said. “His work ethic coming from a good program at Whitmer has carried over.”
The biggest wow came when Campbell announced Moore “probably” will start the Aug. 31 opener at Florida. Moore won’t turn 18 until next Sunday.
Campbell gushed over Moore’s blend of strength — his legs are gigantic — and quickness, and said Moore’s day-to-day consistency is abnormal of a newcomer.
“He understands how to play hard every day,” Campbell said.
The other tackle spot, which opened in the summer when senior Elijah Jones suffered a blood clot, is being contested by freshman Treyvon Hester and sophomore Chris Collins. Jones is out indefinitely and won’t play at Florida, Campbell said, unless he practices this week.
Moore, a three-star prospect, committed to Toledo in June, 2012, before bigger programs got a whiff of his talent.
He recorded 11 sacks last year for the Division I state runner-up Panthers, attaining second-team All-Ohio honors.
Moore in March entered the state wrestling tournament unbeaten and finished fourth in the 285-pound class.
“When I said in recruiting we stole a guy, I meant it,” Campbell said. “He’s a kid that plays with unbelievable leverage. You can tell he’s a wrestler.
"He’s 303 pounds, and he moves like he’s probably 270 pounds. He wreaks a lot of havoc. He’s a smart football player and a guy that’s going to play a ton of football for us.”
Moore could not comment for this story per the program’s policy of not letting first-year players speak with the media.
Among those who attended the team’s fan appreciation day Saturday and got a rare opportunity to watch practice was Moore’s father, Mitchell, who was highlighted in The Blade’s recent Battle Lines series. The elder Moore said watching a Whitmer football practice inspired him to forgo a life of gang violence to support his son.
Whitmer product Storm Norton, who seeks a two-deep spot on the offensive line depth chart, is impressed by what he’s seen of his high school teammate.
“Playing with him in high school, I can definitely tell he’s improved,” Norton said. “He’s working on a lot of things. I’m looking forward to seeing him play this year.”
Norton, a redshirt freshman, received unsolicited praise from Campbell — “Really good camp. I’m proud of him,” the coach said — and is in line to back up one of the tackle spots.
Campbell singled out two other local players, saying Rogers defensive end/linebacker Ray Bush has “had an outstanding camp,” and St. John’s Jesuit cornerback Cheatham Norrils “has done what we’ve asked of him.” The implication there is Norrils, a returning All Mid-American Conference selection, is practicing with consistency.
HADEN OUT: A scenario of Jordan Haden finally playing a game at Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium unraveled on Thursday when the safety fracture his collar bone. Haden, who started his career at Florida, will miss four weeks and is not expected to travel with the team to the opener.
Campbell said Haden had a strong camp.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.