D3′s corner: The unique challenges of mid-major footballWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: This is the 14th installment of a weekly series in which staff writer Mike Bauman will follow sixth-year Toledo senior cornerback Desmond Marrow for the 2011 season.
Most teams in college football have the luxury of getting into the rhythm of playing games on Saturdays. But players like sixth-year senior cornerback Desmond Marrow and his University of Toledo teammates aren’t awarded that type of preparation at mid-major football programs.
For the Rockets and their Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponents, the opportunity to play on national TV often comes on weekdays, presenting unique challenges to student-athletes at mid-major schools.
“It’s real tough, especially for the guys that have, like, one or two classes on game day,” said Marrow, who leads the team with 66 tackles, 13 pass deflections, 11 pass breakups and is tied for a squad-best two interceptions this year. “It’s kind of odd. You’ve got to go to class. We’ve got people studying and taking tests at the hotels. It’s just a lot.”
Out of UT’s 12 regular season games in 2011, only six were on Saturdays. After playing their last Saturday contest of the year Oct. 22 against Miami (OH), the Rockets had back-to-back Tuesday night games. With Toledo’s final two contests being on Fridays, UT does not have a traditional bye week this season.
“It’s very challenging, but at the same time I give a lot of credit to — at least me personally — I’ve had a lot of teachers who are just very understanding of the situation,” junior linebacker Dan Molls said. “They realize our schedule and just what goes on. It definitely makes it easier, but at the same time it’s difficult. That’s why it’s a very elite group for those that can actually come and play Division I football.”
The longets break the Rockets have had between games in 2011 was nine days, which happened twice. Toledo had nine days between its matchup with the Miami RedHawks on Oct. 22 and Northern Illinois on Nov. 1 and between Western Michigan on Nov. 8 and Central Michigan on Nov. 18. UT head coach Tim Beckman said that 20 players had class at eight o’clock in the morning on Nov. 9 after playing the Broncos, a game which started at 8:02 p.m. the night before and lasted until 12:18 a.m.
“All of them were there,” Beckman said. “One was five minutes late so he had to do a little extracurricular, but I was proud of the way that the kids did that. I’ve also got a stat — I can’t give you the exact number — but I know it was over 30 young men had tests on [the morning after the WMU game]. I think that would have been an awful tough thing to ask a young man that played football until 12:30 [a.m.] and then go take a test the next morning.”
Since Marrow has already received his bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in criminal justice, he elected to take four online classes this semester. However, he’s watched the line between focusing on school and focusing on football get blurred with some of his younger teammates this season.
“It has to be tough,” Marrow said. “I mean, I’ve seen [sophomore offensive lineman] Erik Carlson studying for a test right before a meeting. You’ve got guys after the game and they’ve got tests at, like, eight in the morning. It’s just a lot, especially with the younger guys — freshmen and sophomores. Most of those guys actually play, so it has to be tough.”
After giving up 78 points in its first four MAC games, the Rockets’ defense surrendered 126 combined points in those contests with NIU and WMU. Marrow didn’t blame the Rockets’ defensive woes on the schedule, though.
“Just the little things: missed tackles, missed assignments — things like that,” Marrow said. “We’ve just got a bunch of guys in different spots. I mean, that’s going to happen when you’re playing a position you’ve never played before and you get two days of practice just to learn it. But I mean, it just comes down to making plays. We’ve got to make more plays.”