They acquired a 16-year-old brainiac, the son of an iconic figure in Ohio, and a tight end once coveted by powers from one end of the country to the other.
What the University of Toledo did not do Wednesday on national signing day is announce the Mid-American Conference’s top class. That mythological title went to Western Michigan, ripping the Rockets off their almost annual title as the league’s recruiting king.
Coach Matt Campbell was dejected, his head slumped as if he’d just suffered a rivalry loss. OK, maybe not.
“I’m not,” he said. “I think that’s something we’ve had for the last couple years and that hasn’t meant anything on the football field.”
Light on three-star prospects — three by Rivals.com, four by Scout.com — Campbell said his 23-player haul “filled every need we had” and inches the program closer to his objective of having 22 starting-caliber players on offense and on defense.
Campbell’s second full class is ranked third by both Scout and Rivals, marking the only time since since Tim Beckman’s first year in 2009 the Rockets didn’t finish first or second in the eyes of the foremost recruiting experts.
Almost two-thirds of the pledges — 14 — play defense, the weakest of Toledo’s units for the past decade. Among them is Columbus-area defensive tackle Noah Spielman, the son of former Ohio State and Massillon great Chris Spielman. Spielman of Upper Arlington is 6 feet and 278 pounds and, according to Campbell, “a steal for our program.”
On his son’s official visit, Chris Spielman, the all-time leading tackler for the Detroit Lions, tutored linebackers Junior Sylvestre and Chase Murdock on defending play-action.
“I said, ‘Jeez, I could use you here for spring practice,’ ” Campbell said.
Toledo landed two Florida prospects who waited until signing day to announce: Tampa cornerback Bernard Rogers and Lake Wales tight end Davi’on Riley. Riley, a three-star prospect who attracted early offers from Florida State, Oregon, and Tennessee, arrives packaged with his high school teammate Dedric Brinson, a cornerback. Campbell said Riley sat atop Toledo’s wish list at tight end since the spring.
“That’s where patience paid off,” he said.
UT exceeded its scholarship allotment by seven or eight. Campbell said he’ll make up the difference by grayshirting three players whom he will identify at a later date. Moreover, he said, attrition through injuries and transfers should enable Toledo to open next season at the 85 scholarship limit.
An emphasis this year to target Texas paid dividends with the acquisitions of offensive lineman Bill Weber and defensive end/outside linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
Adeniyi, a Nigeria native who moved to the U.S. seven years ago, is 16. He skipped a grade, Campbell said, and carries a 4.1 grade-point average and a 28 on the ACT.
Texas has been largely ignored by Toledo since Tom Amstutz’s days as coach.
“Two things,” Campbell said. “Our brand right now is really strong because of ESPN games on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Two, flights from Dallas/Fort Worth and Bush Intercontinental are two hours from Detroit.”
The class is without a quarterback after Ithaca, Mich., signal caller Travis Smith backed out of his commitment two weeks ago in favor of Wake Forest. Campbell paused when asked if losing a prized recruit to his old rival, former Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson, was doubly painful.
“I’ll answer politically,” he said. “That happens. A little bit of it’s flattering. The situation that occurred there was the young man thought he had a quicker opportunity to show what he could do than he did here at the University of Toledo."
Also signing were four area walk-ons: Blake Bengela (Whitmer, defensive line), Sam Bruno (Anthony Wayne, safety), Corey Durbin (Fremont St. Joseph, defensive line), and Derich Weiland (Central Catholic, receiver).
— Ryan Autullo