Thursday, January 18, 2018

Target on Tampa Bay: Toledo establishes firm recruiting foothold

After committing to Toledo last week, Wharton defensive back AJ Hampton was asked how many other locals were joining him.

"To be honest, I don't know," Hampton said.

It is hard to keep track given how many area players have already decided to become Rockets. Hampton was the latest on a list that includes fellow Wharton teammate and offensive lineman Lavel Dumont, Admiral Farragut offensive lineman Sam Baker and Armwood linebacker Caleb Sutherland.

There could be more.

"I'm trying to get as many (locals) as possible," Hampton said.


All four players who have committed to Toledo were ranked among the state's top 200 players in the 2018 class by 247Sports. The players have even come up with catchy phrases like "Floledo" and "Florida drip" in their quest to keep the momentum going.

So what makes the Rockets such an attractive option for area players?

RELATED: MAC recruiters enjoying Florida's hospitality, snapping up football talent

"I would have to say first the coaching staff," said Dumont, who committed to the Rockets last month. "They don't sugar coat anything and keep it real with you. The environment and atmosphere out there also is family centered.

"When I committed I know I was going to be able to get some real talented dudes to come with me. The dudes from the area that are coming up there we all know that we are coming into a winning program, one that's going to compete week in and out regardless of who we play. This year's Toledo bay area 2018 class is legit."

RELATED: Indiana-Tampa Bay recruiting pipeline outperforms state schools.

Toledo has had a winning record every season since 2010 and has been to six bowl games during that span. That success has been due in some part to an emphasis on recruiting in Florida, including the Tampa Bay area.

The Rockets have had at least three locals on the roster for the past seven seasons. The high mark came last year with eight.

Bernard Reedy was the catalyst. The former Lakewood standout and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver was a redshirt freshman for Toledo in 2010. He went on to have a stellar career, finishing with 195 receptions for 2,743 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also was named the MVP of the 2011 Military Bowl.

"It's a great brotherhood and program to be a part of," Reedy said. "It's a very relentless program as far as getting the best out of the players. I'll put Toledo up against anybody. And the head coach who recruited me, Jason Candle, was the receivers coach at the time and is the best in the business. I think seeing the success and growth of others makes locals commit and to see that you can make it from any school."


The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth

Bernard Reedy's success at Toledo (and after Toledo) grabbed the attention of area players. "It's a great brotherhood and program to be a part of," Reedy says.


What is remarkable is the influx of area players has continued despite the program going through three coaching changes in that span: Tim Beckman (2009-11), Matt Campbell (2011-15) and Candle, who took over last season.

The carousel actually has had some continuity with Campbell and Candle both being promoted as assistants.

But their affinity for Florida players started earlier than that.

Both played and were assistants at Mount Union, a Division III powerhouse in Ohio. The school stepped up its recruitment in Florida during that time.

Max Smith knows. The Boca Ciega coach played for Mount Union from 2003-06. Campbell was his offensive coordinator and Candle was his receivers coach.

"When I got to Mount Union there were maybe two players from Florida on the roster," Smith said. "When I left there were about 30."


When Campbell and Candle became assistants at Toledo in 2009, the push to land players from Florida continued. Candle was responsible for recruiting the bay area.

Smith left as head coach at Dunedin to become a graduate assistant at Toledo in 2013.

"When I was there, the philosophy was to get players from Florida," said Smith, who left after a year to become the coach at Boca Ciega. "Before, the focus was on Ohio and the border states. But technology changed everything. With Hudl and other accounts, you can't really hide players. You can find them everywhere in the country, and Florida was the biggest spot to get guys because there is just so much talent here."


Smith said there were three areas Toledo concentrated on in Florida: Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa Bay.

"Campbell and Candle got their feet wet landing Florida guys at Mount Union," Smith said. "They got some strong talent from the state, guys like Pierre Garcon. And it only grew once they got to Toledo and were able to attract talent to a Division I-A school instead of one in Division III."

One factor that helped the Rockets was their affiliation with the Mid-American Conference.

"At a lot of big Division I-A schools you have to appeal to boosters in the state," Smith said. "They're going to want you get the top guys in the state. Toledo was in the MAC and there are five schools from Ohio in the conference.

"No one was really caring where Toledo was getting players so they could just hammer Florida."

It is not just fringe players — and programs— where the Rockets are having success. Toledo has two players on the current roster from area powerhouse Armwood: Aaron Covington and Dedarallo Blue. Sutherland is set to join them.


Familiarity also helps in getting locals. Former Dixie Hollins and USF standout Marquel Blackwell is Toledo's running backs coach and handles recruiting in the bay area.

"Marquel recruited me and then it was like a chain reaction," Dumont said. "I started talking to the dudes around the area and they were all interested in Toledo."

The movement is growing.

"The coaches are genuine; they make it feel like Toledo is home away from home," Baker said. "It's four from the area — and counting."


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