To find the key to a successful 2009 football season for the Toledo Rockets you do not have to look any further than senior quarterback Aaron Opelt. The 6-2, 225 pound signal caller is entering his fourth season at Toledo. With 30 games played and 27 starts already under his belt, Aaron Opelt hopes to make the best out of his last season of eligibility under a new offense.
To find the key to a successful 2009 football season for the Toledo Rockets you do not have to look any further than senior quarterback Aaron Opelt. The three year starter has received unfair criticism over his career at Toledo due to the Rockets dismal 13-23 record over the last three seasons.
Opelt cannot be entirely blamed for the losses, if at all. In his first season at Toledo, the Rocket defense gave up 27.7 points and 333.1 yards per game. In 2007 those numbers ballooned to 39.2 points and 444.1 points per game. It was a wonder Toledo won five games in 2007 with those kind of defensive numbers. Then last season the Rocket defense still gave up 31.4 points and 381.4 yards per game despite improving over the previous season.
Aaron became the starter a few games into the season in 2006, as a true freshman. He completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 875 yards and 6 touchdowns with 5 interceptions. He also rushed for 261 yards and 4 touchdowns as he showed the mobile side of his abilities.
As a sophomore in 2007 Opelt played in nine games, missing three due to injury. He completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 1756 yards and 12 touchdowns, while throwing 7 interceptions. Last season Opelt played in all 12 games, completing 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,176 yards and 12 touchdowns, while throwing 7 interceptions.
For his career thus far Aaron has played in 30 games, starting 27 of them. He has completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 4807 yards with 30 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Those are not bad stats at all.
To get a better idea of what has gone wrong for Opelt, we need to go back to his start at Toledo. Aaron was a good baseball player in high school as well as a very good quarterback that ran a spread offense at Fremont Ross High School. Some MAC schools recruited him for baseball, while others recruited him to play football.
Toledo's offensive coordinator at the time was John Shannon and he really wanted Opelt to come to Toledo. In the end, Aaron picked Toledo over a few other MAC programs. Opelt liked the spread offense that the Rockets ran under Rob Spence from 2001 through 2004. During Opelt's senior season at Fremont Ross, John Shannon took over as offensive coordinator at Toledo. There was a bit of a learning curve for Shannon, but having senior QB Bruce Gradkowski to lead the offense made it a bit easier for Shannon.
An injury to Clint Cochran early in the season in 2006 gave Opelt the opportunity to take over. He played well, and showed the ability to make something happen with his feet when the pocket broke down.
One thing was starting to become apparent though. John Shannon's offense was different than the spread that Rob Spence ran. Shannon's offense became predictable with a lot of wide receiver screens and short passes to the tight end. The threat of the deep pass seemed non-existant, allowing the opposing defense to key on the short pass.
After the 2007 season John Shannon left Toledo to become the offensive coordinator at Marshall. Chris Heddon was promoted to offensive coordinator at Toledo, and Ken Karcher, a former NFL quarterback, was brought in to coach the quarterbacks.
Heddon's inexperience as an offensive coordinator showed early on with the play calling. Also, it was obvious that Karcher was instructing Opelt to throw the ball away instead of trying to make something happen with his feet.
Looking at the three seasons, it is obvious that Toledo kept moving further and further away from a true spread offense. By last season the majority of the snaps were taken behind center instead of in the shotgun. There were virtually no QB draw plays being called either. Toledo had a quarterback designed for a spread offense, but an offense that was not a spread. This was a bad combination for Opelt, and did not enable him to utilize his strengths.
Then this past December Tim Beckman was named head coach at Toledo. With Beckman comes a whole new set of coaches and a new offense. The quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from Appalachian State, Scott Satterfield, was hired to be the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Toledo.
At Appalachian State, Satterfield ran the type of offense that fits Aaron Opelt's abilities perfectly.
The toughest winter conditioning at Toledo in years and a competitive spring and summer workout have put Aaron Opelt in a position to finally have the opportunity to show what he can do in an offense that showcases his abilities.
So far this August Aaron has grasped the offense very well and is head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacks in practice. Media is only allowed to attend the beginning of practices, and the majority of the offense has not been seen outside of the players and coaches, but there is reason to be optimistic based on what has been seen and what coaches and players have said about Opelt's performance on the field.
Just one year left for Opelt, but it is all that is needed to get rid of the unfair criticism and to leave his legacy at Toledo.