Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018
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David Briggs

MIRRORS OF SPORT

Is Bryant Koback the Rockets' next hometown star?

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    Running back Bryant Koback, center, finds an opening during the University of Toledo football spring scrimmage April 13. The Springfield alum has immediate eligibility to play for the Rockets this year.

    BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

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    Bryant Koback speaks during media day at Larimer Athletic Complex at the University of Toledo in Toledo on Friday.

    Blade/Kurt Steiss

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He is the University of Toledo’s next hometown star.

The returning football hero.

The Big Man on Bancroft.

The ... 

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

“Slow down,” Rockets coach Jason Candle told an unnamed columnist ready to anoint heralded transfer Bryant Koback after the first day of practice.

My bad, fair enough.

Truth be told, Koback has no interest in putting the glory before the horse, either.

It was only the other day the former Springfield star running back learned he would be eligible this year, with the NCAA — in a welcome show of compassion and common sense — granting him immediate eligibility upon his arrival from Kentucky.

For now, Koback just wants to be one of the guys, content to be back at home and back on the field.

WATCH: Bryant Koback talks about gaining immediate eligibility at UT

Two years after a grim injury cut short his sublime senior season at Springfield, he is back at full capacity, ready to earn his place.

“A great addition to our football team,” Candle said. “A really strong student, a great teammate, a guy that’s flown under the radar here, and I like guys like that. I’m really excited for what his future looks like.”

At least, Koback, a redshirt freshman, will lend the defending MAC champions another threat to an already deep backfield alongside veterans Shakif Seymour and Art Thompkins.

At best, well, we don’t need to remind that Toledo has a long lineage of homegrown stars, headlined, of course, by Macomber grad Mel Long, a two-time All-American defensive tackle.

Koback could be next in line.

Toledo is not just getting a fine young man. It is getting one of the finest talents our area has produced in years.

Remember the start to his abbreviated 2016 season? It was as if the 6-foot, 195-pound all-state burner was the star in a video game stuck on novice setting. Koback set out to run for 3,000 yards — 3,000! — and was right on schedule through four games, piling up 1,096 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns, and an appearance on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays.

Had he not snapped his tibia and fibula in two early in Week 5, he no doubt would have challenged for Ohio’s Mr. Football honor, which ultimately went to deserving Central Catholic rusher Michael Warren.

“I’ve had a chance to coach against Charles Woodson and play against Desmond Howard, and those are kind of once-in-a-lifetime-type guys,” Springfield coach Pat Gucciardo said. “Bryant is right next to those guys.”

He added: “Toledo is always known for having playmakers and great football players and ... he will definitely live up to the tradition that they have set there. He’s one of the fastest, most athletic running backs in the country.”

As for the pressure of playing near home — where Koback returned to be closer to his mother, Mary, who is ill — that is real.

So is the excitement. His aunt, Sherri Koback, was speechless when Candle called to let her know Koback could play this fall.

“I messaged coach later,” Sherri said, “to say, ‘I apologize for my reaction. I think I was numb.’”

Similar joy unfurled across the Springfield community. When Sherri looped in family friend Rick Upchurch, the legendary Broncos receiver and 1971 Springfield grad replied, “Girl, there is confetti all over my house right now!”

Still, if anyone is suited to handle the homecoming party, it is Koback, who knows as well as anyone real hardship is not a loss or a broken leg. He bounced between homes growing up before moving in with aunt and uncle, Scott and Sherri, in middle school, and has thrived at every turn, in the classroom — the business major graduated Springfield early with a 3.5 GPA and had a 3.3 mark at Kentucky — and between the lines.

The Glass Bowl is but his latest stage.

“Playing in front of everybody you grew up knowing and the people they know, that definitely makes you more motivated,” Koback said. “But I’m coming in to work as hard as I possibly can every day and I’ll leave the rest in God’s hands. If you do everything right, it should fall into place.”

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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