When you think of outstanding offensive skill position players across the history of the Mid-American Conference, one often thinks about some of the outstanding players from the Toledo Rockets, from Bruce Gradkowski to Logan Woodside, from Michael Roberts to Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson.
Year after year, the expectation is for the Rockets to grace The Glass Bowl turf with some of the most skilled playmakers in the MAC, and this season appears to be no different, as the Rockets return ten total starters on offense to a unit which ranked 13th in the nation a season ago. Returning all-MAC caliber players, coupled with a talented QB looking to break out, has the Rockets as a trendy preseason pick to win it all.
At quarterback, with Eli Peters graduating, it appears to be Carter Bradley’s time. The son of former NFL head coach and current defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Carter has appeared in 14 games in the last three seasons, including four a season ago, occupying the spot starter role. In a twist of fate, Eli Peters and Mitchell Guadagni’s injury woes over the past two season may now be a silver lining for the Rockets, as it allowed Bradley to get starting time despite his status as a QB3.
The six-foot-three sophomore was 55-of-89 for 849 yards last season, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions for the Rockets in 2020, showing great potential. Bradley showed out in games against NIU and Central Michigan, throwing three touchdowns in both of those games (with both games ending in wins.) He finished third in the MAC in passing efficiency as a result of his efforts.
Georgia Tech transfer Tucker Gleason enters the program as a redshirt freshman, and has expereince in the scheme, having played high school ball for current UT co-coordinator Robert Weiner. Fellow redshirt freshman DeQuan Finn returns after appearing in seven games the last two seasons. Finn is Toledo’s most mobile QB and could see action off the bench to utilize his rushing skills. Gavin Hall and local product AJ Gucciardo are also on the roster as quarterbacks.
Running back has been a strength for Toledo Rocket football since the days of Wasean Tait, Chester Taylor and Kareem Hunt. That fact hasn’t changed the last few years, as Bryant Koback has continued that legacy. The former Kentucky transfer is simply one of the top players in the Mid-American Conference, regardless of position.
Koback was fourth in the MAC in rushing a year ago, while being second on the team in receptions. He topped 120 yards rushing twice in 2020, and scored six total touchdowns. In his last full season 2019, he ran for 1187 and 14 touchdowns (two receiving). Expect Koback to not only be one of the top running backs in the MAC, but also at the FBS level— especially behind the MAC’s most veteran line.
Reserve back Micah Kelly could start for a lot of MAC programs. The Florida native had 208 yards a year ago across six games. Another Florida native, Jacquez Stuart, played in four games a year ago and showcased playmaking skills at five-foot-nine as a kick returner. Freshman Lamy Constant was a four-star recruit out of New Jersey according to ESPN, while Cauren Lynch, and Jordan Lowe are also on the roster.
Receiver appears to be deep once again for the Rockets in 2021. Isaiah Winstead, who emerged a season ago as one of the top pass catchers in the MAC, returns after earning third team all-MAC honors after leading Toledo with 25 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns. The former Norfolk State Spartan averaged over 17 yards per catch in 2020, and will start the season against his former team on Sept. 4.
Bryce Mitchell, a Toledo native, also returns. The senior has played in 45 career games, and started four games last season. He has scored four touchdowns in back to back years and had 13 catches for 306 yards in the 2020 campaign.
Devin Maddox, who was Toledo’s primary slot receiver in 2020, is another returnee after starting three games a year ago, catching 14 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns. Veteran Danzel McKinley-Lewis had 20 receptions last year for 289 yards and two TD’s while also serving as a solid return man. Jerjuan Newton played in all six games a year ago, adding 15 receptions for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
Receiver Ronnie Blackmon entered the transfer portal, while Georgia transfer Matt Landers and Rutgers transfer Brayden Fox come in to replenish the depth chart. Landers is a big receiver at six-foot-five, and played in 25 games across three seasons in Athens as part of the Georgia attack, once scoring three catches and a touchdown in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl victory over Baylor. Fox was an early enrollee this winter at Rutgers, but quickly transferred out after a move to safety.
Adam Beale, Chris’seon Stringer, Kenyon Sneed, Demeer Blankumsee, Larry Stephens, and Jalin Cooper also appear on the roster while Jalynn Williams and Deamonte King appear to be moving to receiver after being corners last season.
With so many receivers on the field in the Rocket offensive attack, the tight end position can sometime get lost in the shuffle. Looking to stand out is Alabama native Jamal Turner, who returns to his starting position after starting every game last season and adding 81 yards on six catches.
Drew Rosi, a senior, is the older brother of lineman Nick Rosi. Drew brings experience and had seven receptions for 62 yards a season ago proving to be a solid one two-punch with Turner. Local product AJ Harrison from Springfield, appeared in five games last season and Justin Stephens is filled with potential moving forward. Clay Caudill is also on the roster as a tight end.
Coordinators and position coaches include, Mike Hallett as co-coordinator and offensive line coach, Robert Weiner as the other co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Nate Cole as running backs coach, Kevin Beard as receivers coach, and Mark Staten as tight ends coach. Beard has spent time as an assistant at Miami (FL), Georgia and Tennessee, while Staten was a long-time member of the Michigan State staff. Former Rocket running back Terry Swanson is back as the Rockets director of player development.
The Rocket skill position players feature enough experience and skill to cause problems for opposing defenses. Bryant Koback looks to be one of the best players in the MAC, capable of carrying the load to close out ballgames while Isaiah Winstead features the big play potential to score quickly. These players and a healthier line upfront should have the Rockets right in the MAC title hunt.