Its fitting that a guy from Massillon, Ohio, would be the youngest head coach in college football.
The town is famous in the football-crazed state for giving a miniature football to every male baby born at the hospital.
For Toledo coach Matt Campbell, that head start was a sign of things to come.
I said this when I got the job, Campbell said. Everybody is going to question my age, but Ive always been put in situations at a very young age to be in leadership situations.
Campbell, 33, has led the Rockets through an extraordinary year since he was hired Dec. 12, 2011. They beat Air Force in the Military Bowl in his first game as head coach, went 9-3 this season, beat a ranked team (Cincinnati) for the first time since 2004, won eight straight games and appeared in the Bowl Championship Series Standings for the first time in school history.
The Rockets get another crack at a marquee victory Saturday against No. 18 Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Bronco Stadium.
Hes definitely a players coach, Toledo running back David Fluellen said. Thats something we love. Hes always on the practice field running around. He shows us that passion that he wants it as much as we do. Weve seen that during games. When people score touchdowns, hes out there chest-bumping.
And its not just Campbell.
His staff is the youngest in the nation, too. The average age is 34.8 years with coaches ranging from 29 to 41 years old.
Campbell was the offensive coordinator at Toledo in 2010-11. He was able to retain most of the offensive staff when his boss, Tim Beckman, took the Illinois job.
Its about surrounding yourself with great people, Campbell said. Its putting yourself in situations and environments where everybody has the same vision to be successful.
Success is nothing new to Campbell, whose dad was a high school football coach.
Campbell played defensive line at Division III powerhouse Mount Union from 1999 to 2002. He won three straight national championships and was a two-time All-American.
That experience made a lasting mark.
It teaches you the virtue of how you have to consistently prepare at a really elite level if you want to get where you want to go, he said. Thats the thing I ended up learning as a player. One thing weve really worked hard in our program to bring is that sense of consistency.
Campbell landed a graduate assistant position at Bowling Green immediately after his playing career ended. He walked into a Falcons program that was at the forefront of the spread offense revolution. Urban Meyer had just left for Utah.
Campbell was hired on offense in part because coaches wanted someone with a defensive background to run the defensive scout team, one of the prime jobs of an offensive GA. Other members of that offensive staff now work at LSU, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
They were on the cutting edge of everything the spread offense was, Campbell said. It caught my interest right away. More than anything, I was fortunate to be there.
Two years later, at 25, he became the offensive coordinator at Mount Union where he won two more national championships in his two seasons.
He moved to Bowling Green for two years as the offensive line coach and joined the Toledo staff as offensive line coach in 2009. He became the offensive coordinator in 2010.
In 10 years as a coach, his teams are a combined 94-37.
Football was what Ive always been around, he said. The great value I was always taught is no matter where youre at or what youre doing, work as hard as you can and good things will happen. Ive tried to do that.
His goal all along: To run his own program.
He got the chance much more quickly than most.
Ive really enjoyed the opportunity to create a vision, he said.
A vision shared by his players, who have maintained the programs momentum through the coaching transition.
One of the things he did a really good job of was developing a relationship with all the players, defensive end Hank Keighley said. Its been real easy to follow him.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat