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Campbell and staff find success on the football recruiting trail

By Jay Skebba
On August 15, 2012

Character, passion and commitment – those are the three qualities that head coach Matt Campbell stresses to recruits when he sits down in living rooms across the country.

We’ve reached the halfway point in the race for the best high school players the 2013 class has to offer and Campbell likes where he stands.

“I’m really proud of how this staff has recruited,” Campbell said. “I think we’ve done a great job and I think we’ve worked really hard to find young people that fit into the core values of our program.”

The Rockets have received verbal commitments from 11 high school seniors-to-be. There’s a long way to go until National Signing Day in February, but Rivals currently ranks UT’s 2013 class as the best in the Mid-American Conference.

Toledo’s 2012 class was also considered to be number one in the league.

“I think our program’s in a situation right now where we have to bring in people that represent what the kids we have in our program right now represent, and that’s great character young men,” Campbell said. “Division I football is really hard, it’s a 365-day-a-year commitment to being the best you can be and I think that’s really important when you evaluate a young man.”

Campbell, about to begin his first full season at the helm, knows the importance of landing players inside “Rocket Nation,” a term his predecessor Tim Beckman coined as anywhere within a four-hour radius from Toledo.

Of the 11 commits in the class of 2013, eight of them are within that range.

One of the headliners of the 2013 group is Nate Jeppesen, a three-star offensive lineman from Portage, Mich.

The 6-4, 270-pounder gave Toledo his oral commitment June 26th. Jeppesen can play either side of the ball, but likely projects as an offensive guard with excellent run-blocking skills. He can also move well for a player his size.

Another key player in this class from Rocket Nation that should have a big role down the road with the Rockets is Lake Catholic (Mentor, OH) defensive end John Stepec.

Stepec recorded 80 tackles as a junior in 2011, 21 of them for a loss, and 12 sacks.

Weighing in at 245 pounds, he’ll have some bulking-up to do, but shouldn’t have any problem filling out his 6-3 frame.

The Rockets beat out several BCS schools for Stepec’s services, including Minnesota, Syracuse and Boston College.

“I’m a northeast Ohio guy, my dad was a head high school football coach, so I know the pride and tradition not only in this state, but in the four-hour radius around this state,” Campbell said.

UT has also had success finding and utilizing local products from the northwest Ohio area.

Perrysburg’s T.J. Fatinikun is easily one of the most talented defensive assets on the squad. The senior was leading the team in tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (2.5) before an injury Oct. 8 caused him to miss the rest of the 2011 season.

Holland’s Eric Page was an All-American for Toledo in 2010 and caught 306 passes during his three-year career. Had he stayed for his senior season, he would have needed just 43 catches to become the all-time NCAA leader.

“Not only does it say there’s great talent here, but it also says a lot about the high school coaches,” Campbell said. “One of the great things that maybe people sometimes don’t realize is you look around the city and you see some of the best high school coaches in the state of Ohio.”

The 32-year-old Campbell and his staff will look to area products Marquise Moore and Austin Niswander to continue to ride the wave of success with local talent.

Moore, a three-star defensive tackle from Whitmer High School, also gave UT a commitment this summer. He stands 6-1, 297 pounds and anchors a defensive line that made the state final four last year.

Niswander has played just about every position for Findlay High School, but will likely translate to safety or outside linebacker at the next level.

The three-star athlete recorded 64 tackles and a forced fumble on defense in 2011.

“(Area coaches) are committed to building programs, they’ve been there, they’ve built great programs,” Campbell said. “When we have an opportunity to recruit a young man from one of those high schools, we know we’re going to get a first-class person.”

There’s still six months until any of these kids can officially sign on the dotted line, a reality that makes any mid-major program uneasy.

Many players commit to a program like Toledo early in the process and use that as a safety net in case bigger programs don’t offer during their senior seasons.

Three highly-touted recruits have decommitted from UT this summer after bigger programs in BCS conferences offered a scholarship.

“Sometimes you win that battle, sometimes you don’t, that’s recruiting” Campbell said. “One of the things I’ve always said is we’re going to recruit the best of the best throughout the country and I’m not afraid to do that. Our staff’s not afraid to do that and we’re not afraid to go toe-to-toe with those people.”

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