- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2011

Chances are, just about everyone watching Wednesday’s Military Bowl will have their eyes on Toledo wide receiver Eric Page.

That includes the players on the field with him, too.

“He has the ability to make you watch the game while you’re on the field,” Rockets running back Adonis Thomas said. “Sometimes you’ll be blocking and you’ll hear ‘Ohhhh’ and hear the crowd reaction, and you turn and look down the field and see No. 12 just breaking free. He’s a special player and a great talent.”

Even in a potent offense, Page stands out. This season, he has 112 receptions for 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Rockets (8-4), who close their season against Air Force (7-5) at RFK Stadium.

Page’s reliability provides some certainty for new coach Matt Campbell, who was elevated from offensive coordinator this month after Tim Beckman departed for Illinois.

“He’s got great vision, and he’s elusive every time he touches the ball,” said Campbell, who at 32 is the youngest coach in major college football. “He’s a young man who knows the game and understands the game. I think he’s the consummate pro. He’s a young man who if you come watch practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, he’s making the same plays on those days that he’s making in the game on Saturday.”

Toledo’s receiving record book already prominently displays his name. He’s the program leader in receptions for a career (293) and a season, as well as yardage for a career (3,387). He’s tied with Lance Moore (currently with the New Orleans Saints) with 25 career receiving touchdowns, and he needs 72 yards to surpass Moore’s single-season yardage mark set in 2003.

Yet he’s also a triple threat, returning kickoffs and punts for a team seeking its first bowl victory since 2005.

“To me, it’s not that big of a deal,” Page said. “I don’t think about it as a responsibility. I just think about it as what I have to do for the team. That’s what I try to do.”

And it’s what he’s done ever since arriving at his hometown school. Page already was committed to Toledo when Beckman was hired after the 2008 season, and he remained part of the class with a new coach on board. He made an immediate impression; in his first game, Page had 12 catches for 128 yards at Purdue.

The former high school quarterback settled in nicely at his new position, making the most of his knowledge of offenses to become the latest undersized receiver to emerge as a college football star. Page is a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (given to the nation’s most versatile player) and was an all-conference pick at wideout, kickoff returner and punt returner.

It’s an imposing resume for a guy listed at only 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds.

“In the National Football League and around college football, there’s a lot more small receivers becoming better known about,” Page said. “I think you have to be smart and be able to think on your feet.”

It’s a mantra many of his teammates would agree with. Toledo, which is making consecutive bowl appearances after enduring losing seasons from 2006 through 2009, rotates two quarterbacks and three running backs in an attempt to make the most of its personnel.

That also means making sure their star wideout, who ranks third in the nation in receptions, has an opportunity to create headaches for opponents.

“If you look at him, if you just walk into some place and you knew who he was but you’d never seen him before, you would never guess,” quarterback Austin Dantin said. “He’s not very tall. Nothing blows you away about him until he steps on the field. He has the quickest change of direction I’ve ever seen and unbelievable hands. He’s an unbelievable talent.”

Make no mistake. Fans at RFK will be watching him plenty on Wednesday.