Published: Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 02:08
The University of Toledo football team heads into the 2013 season with high expectations, hoping to build off of last year’s success and reach this year’s Mid-American Conference Championship at Ford Field.
As with any football team, a majority of those expectations fall squarely on the shoulders of its quarterback. And in Toledo, those shoulders belong to senior quarterback Terrance Owens.
T.O. came into the opening of training camp Aug. 1 as the clear-cut starter. This marks the first time since 2009 that the Rockets have begun their training camp program without a competition for that starting position.
The 2011 MAC record-holder for completed pass percentage has 17 starts over his last three years and has thrown 45 career touchdowns to only 16 interceptions.
For Owens, this season will be his chance to fully mature into the starting quarterback position he has been working towards over the last three years.
Although the presence of former Rocket quarterback Austin Dantin — who split reps with Owens during the last three seasons — will be missed, Owens is confident in his ability to be the true leader of this year’s squad.
“I feel I am ready,” he said during July’s MAC media day at Ford Field. “I feel like I have a good understanding of our system and the game and I am just ready to lead this team.”
Though competing for the same spot, the relationship between T.O. and Dantin was anything but hostile. For Owens, it was one of mutual camaraderie and motivation he said will be hard to replace during the coming season.
“[Austin and I] were around each other every day so eventually we were going to feed off of each other,” Owens said. “I can’t compensate for that really. It is just going to be me doing it on my own, watching film and practicing. The motivation is from the coach’s perspective rather than another player’s.”
UT head coach Matt Campbell showed confidence in his starting quarterback’s leadership abilities, and pointed to Owens’ level of play as the factor that earned him the spot last season over Dantin.
“I think both quarterbacks here for the last two or three years were outstanding leaders,” Campbell said. “You got a guy like T.O. who really stepped up last year and really took the reins of this football team. At the end of the day our kids had great confidence in both those guys, but T.O.’s play really separated him from the pack.”
Campbell believes his quarterback will continue to show the type of leadership he expects out of a senior on his team.
“T.O. has really continued on with that maturation process of becoming a great leader and what you expect a senior quarterback to be in your program,” he said.
Senior receiver Bernard Reedy said Owens was made one of this year’s captains, evidence of the team’s faith in their quarterback’s ability to lead them to a title.
“Terrance was chosen as one of our captains, and if you practice with him you can see why,” Reedy said. “He brings it every day and he has that leader mentality.”
Part of being the leader is staying on the field for the entire season, something T.O.’s ankles didn’t allow a year ago.
In the first part of the season, Owens injured an ankle. During the pivotal Northern Illinois matchup, he injured the other one, giving him a pair of ankle ailments that hampered his playing time the rest of the season.
Both quarterback and coach are confident that he has had the offseason improvement necessary to remain healthy all year long.
“I am 100 percent now,” T.O. said. “I feel I have improved my knowledge of the game and we go to practice every day to perfect our craft. I feel I got much better on the field.”
It was Owens’ desire to play through the pain last season that really drew coach Campbell’s attention, particularly during the postseason.
“Nobody wanted to play more than T.O.,” he said. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get him back. Playing in an early bowl game certainly didn’t help us and it certainly didn’t help him. I am really proud of what he did because he was such a great leader through it all and I think it was something that really motivated him and helped him know that he had to do everything in his power to help prevent those injuries in the future.”
Something that also helps a quarterback’s health is a reliable offensive line.
This year the Rockets are returning all but one lineman from last year’s squad — a statistic that helps T.O. feel confident in his protection.
“I am feeling very comfortable,” he said. “As a quarterback the offensive linemen are your best friends. It is just good to have those experienced guys back. It is going to be a good year.”
T.O. will spearhead an offense that looks to improve on last season’s impressive performance. Reedy, who had 88 receptions, six touchdowns and was named first-team All-MAC as both a receiver and a punt returner, sees the lack of a quarterback competition — as well as the developed chemistry between him and T.O. — as the keys to continued success.
“Terrance has been throwing to me since freshman year and now that he is the starting quarterback there is no going back and forth,” Reedy said.
For Reedy, part of the challenge of the Rocket’s two-quarterback system from last season was the unique differences that came from T.O. being left-handed. Now that he’s the only starting quarterback, however, he sees the connection between quarterback and receiver getting even stronger.
“I feel like the bond is there,” Reedy said. “With the key players coming back I feel that we should top what we did last year.”
Owens, Reedy and the rest of the Rockets will start the 2013 season against the Gators Aug. 31 in Florida.