Wasean Tait could've been the fiercest tailback in recent memory before his career was cut short by injury. (Photo via ncaabbs.com)
MACwood Squares is our summer reading series on the best athletes in Mid-American Conference sports history. This week features Toledo. Looking for your MAC school? Consult our schedule for other teams and please submit your nominees as well.
Offense, offense, offense. For the last 45 years that is how the Rockets have been well-known. (And sometimes defense.) Here are six standouts dating back to their glory years of the early '70s.
DT Mel Long (1969-71) — There aren't many MAC players in the College Football Hall of Fame. Long's one of them. He was essentially the defensive Ealey. Half the reason any team has a winning streak is because of the defense, and he anchored one which, from '70-'71, allowed just 7.67 points per game. He would go onto play for three seasons with the Cleveland Browns before retiring, but his most heroic accomplishment was his service in the Vietnam War prior to college football.
QB Chuck Ealey (1969-71) — Does it even need to be argued anymore? He never lost a game as a starting quarterback (35-0). Three times he won MAC Offensive Player of the Year, and three times he led his team to victory in the Tangerine Bowl. In his final year he was eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting and thrice won MAC Back of the Year. He was never drafted by the NFL, but instead went north to the CFL and led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats a Grey Cup victory. I'll stop right now on Ealey; this whole thing deserves another post.
RB Wasean Tait (1993-98) — A generation later, another great Rocket offensive player led a team to an undefeated season. This time it was 1995, and an 11-0-1 was capped off by a Las Vegas Bowl victory, a game Tait almost single-handedly won 40-37 in overtime. This was also the first OT game in NCAA football history. But Tait did more than play great in one game. His 4,153 yards is second all-time on the UT list and you can certainly argue it would've been much higher -- perhaps the 5,000 mark -- had Tait not wrecked his knee in the '96 opener. He did come back in 1998 but in a limited role and he never did make it to the NFL.
RB Chester Taylor (1998-2001) — He was what Tait would've been healthy his entire career. Taylor notched the UT rushing record with 4,849 yards and was named to three first team All-MAC teams. Not many backs are able to sustain a 9-year career, as it's one of the most grueling in the sport, but Taylor has done just that, totalling 4,663 yards for the Ravens, Vikings and Bears. His best season was 1,216 yards for the Vikings in 2006.
QB Bruce Gradkowski (2002-2005) — Little is known about Ealey's stats other than win-loss. We do know what Gradkowski accomplished statistically in the last decade since, well, we had TVs and the Internet. Gradkowski was overshadowed by the ilk of Ben Roethlisberger and Omar Jacobs but even to this day he's remembered as the most accurate passer of the last 10 years. His 68.21% completion rate is better than even Dan LeFevour or Ben Roethlisberger. He also added an element of mobility and has played through much pain, once famously (perhaps foolishly), playing in the Motor City Bowl with a broken throwing hand. Gradkowski had a bit of success after being drafted by the Buccaneers, but the success has been limited to specific games and has bounced around the league from Tampa Bay to Cleveland and finally to Oakland.
S Barry Church (2006-2009) — His biggest set of awards is that set of four first team All-MAC teams, just one of four players to receive that many. Once in a game he blocked an extra point and a last-second field goal in a one-point victory. Going undrafted in 2010, he played sparingly for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie, seeing time in all but one game.
Everyone is eligible, but others to consider: Lance Moore, Gene Swick, Nick Kazcur, Andy McCollum, and Kelly Herndon. I'm hesitant to include '20s star Merle Gulick since his best years came at Hobart College. The same goes with Emlen Tunnell, an NFL black pioneer who transferred away from Toledo in the '40s.
Who are your nominees for Toledo's MACwood Squares? Comment below, tweet us at @HustleBelt or submit a FanPost making your case. The final nine will be revealed Friday.
Who is the greatest Toledo football player ever?
Mel Long (0 votes)
Chuck Ealey (43 votes)
Wasean Tait (1 vote)
Chester Taylor (8 votes)
Bruce Gradkowski (12 votes)
Barry Church (1 vote)
Other (mention in comments) (2 votes)
67 total votes