Four years ago, Robert Weiner began studying tape of his new team’s quarterback.
Toledo’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach noticed Dequan Finn slowed down his throwing motion if someone was about to hit him. The Rockets quarterback and eventual MAC Champion signal caller was seemingly bracing for impact, but it would alter the location of his pass. Finn wasn’t trusting his ability in those moments.
So Weiner instilled a phrase with Finn, an acronym that would carry literal and figurative implications for years to come.
ATI: Accelerate Through Impact.
And Finn has applied that to every aspect of his life. If he has a crucial school project to finish, a critical life decision to make, or if he needs to read a defense at a pivotal time, Finn embraces it all.
He doesn’t run from it. He keeps going.
“That’s that impactful moment,” Weiner told HERO Sports. “I’ve been really proud of him in his development that he has taken every moment that life throws at us and that has been thrown at him in particular. We haven’t really spoken about that in some time, but that is something I think was an early part that put him on a path that he really has accelerated through the impact of every moment.”
This approach has led to a highly decorated career with the Rockets, who have been one of the mainstays in the Group of Five Top 25.
In 2022, Finn was second in the MAC with 23 touchdown passes. He threw for 2,260 yards and 12 interceptions on a 60% completion rate. He also ran for 631 yards, which was a school record for quarterbacks, en route to earning offensive MVP honors in the conference championship and the Boca Raton Bowl.
Through six games in 2023, Finn has arguably been better as a junior. He has a MAC-best 66.2% completion rate, is tied for the lead with 12 touchdown passes, and is third with 1,099 passing yards while throwing five picks. He’s also fifth in the conference among all players with 413 rushing yards – well on pace to break his own school record – to go with four touchdowns on the ground.
For his career, Finn has recorded 5,516 yards (eighth all-time at Toledo), 53 touchdowns (fourth), and 19 interceptions (outside of the top 10) through the air as well as 1,690 yards (a program career record) and 22 touchdowns on the ground.
“Everything’s been a steady climb,” Finn told HERO Sports regarding the 2023 season. “I feel as though this is the most mature team I’ve been on since I’ve been here. … I’m just really blessed and thankful to be in this position right now.”
Dequan Finn’s Hometown
Finn grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and played at Martin Luther King in high school.
A football was in his cradle when he was a baby. His father played tackle at Wisconsin, and his mom had him working on three- and five-step dropbacks in the backyard.
“It just comes from my background,” he said after a laugh.
Finn said he began playing football at 5 years old, but he was actually lining up at center and linebacker at first. When his coach held quarterback tryouts, Finn recalled being “on the money” throwing to receivers running fly routes.
His coach was astounded.
“Quarterback’s been my spot ever since then,” Finn said.
Though he began receiving interest from colleges as a sophomore, Finn said he wasn’t being seriously recruited until the end of his junior year of high school.
Toledo, which is where Finn attended his first high school camp, offered him his senior year. He developed a solid relationship with Rockets head coach Jason Candle.
Though he began drawing interest from Power Five programs, Finn felt Toledo cared about him more than other schools. In fact, while several schools focused on Xs and Os, Candle emphasized developing him as a person.
Instead of talking nonstop about what he could do as a football player, as many recruiters did, Candle promised Finn he would graduate with a college degree. That’s something no one in Finn’s family had done yet.
Candle kept his word. Finn earned a degree in communications last spring.
“He held me to a standard, and I held him to a standard,” Finn said. “We had that type of relationship. Toledo helped me in that aspect, growing wiser, more mature, and not taking things for granted.”
Toledo Football Helping Dequan Finn’s Development
Finn wanted to grow as a person and a scholar most of all. But he also wanted to become a more efficient and consistent quarterback.
He’s done just that.
During his weekly press conference, Candle pointed out a number of throws Finn made for touchdowns and to convert on third-and-long situations in Toledo’s previous game against UMass.
Not only did he rush for 172 yards. He made the right reads, got the ball out of his hands on time, and made critical throws to sustain drives.
“My whole life it’s been, I’m better as a runner than as a passer. I’m still getting that to this day,” Finn said. “I always try to hone in on being a better passer and being a more efficient and more complete quarterback. But when I run the ball, it gives the defense a headache because they don’t know what to do when I run the ball.”
Weiner said Finn’s understanding of the game has progressed so much that some of the granular details they harp on now weren’t even being discussed a couple years ago.
Weiner noted Finn has learned to recognize “dirty eyes.” That means, if defenders are focused on the wrong places, they can be taken advantage of or Finn can “two-time” them.
So if a defender is eyeing the pocket, worried about Finn as a runner, he should have a better passing window. If a linebacker has his back turned, too worried about a receiver gaining separation, Finn will have a better opportunity to find an open field with his feet.
“He can’t be right,” Weiner said. “In this offense that Coach Candle has created, it’s created some brilliant situations for DQ to be in that circumstance exactly. And what he’s really learned is the balance of how to do that. I think when he was a little bit younger he didn’t really understand that balance.”
Finn pointed out he’s improved in terms of defensive recognition. He believes he’s found a good balance between when he should run and throw.
But he’s constantly seeking to learn even more and become an expert of the game.
“Very comfortable in his own skin coming off of a championship season last year,” Candle said. “To work at the things you’re not doing a great job at and really tell yourself the truth in the offseason, that’s a credit to him to sit down and do that and go through all that stuff. Obviously, we’ve got to keep putting him in situations where he can be successful at a high level.”
Weiner noted mobile quarterbacks will sometimes shun running because they want to prove what they can do as a passer and work on that aspect of their game. Finn sometimes did that, Weiner said.
But, Weiner added, Finn realized how to couple those two aspects of his game together and use them to his advantage. Along with his mental capabilities to dissect a defense and to execute, he is exploiting opposing schemes progressively more proficiently.
“This is a young man of tremendous character and of great leadership and traits and of really engaging personality. I think those traits are ones that find their way not only onto the field but into preparation as well,” Weiner said. “… When you start to get to know the person he is, then you start to realize this is a person whose success should really be cheered and applauded because it’s based in something that’s really, really, really good. But as a football player, his growth has been such that he’s taken incredible progress in the processing of the intellectual side of the game.”
Dequan Finn’s NFL Draft Potential
Weiner also appreciates how Finn is never satisfied with his current abilities. Through successes and setbacks, he never lets those derail him from his course of ascension.
Many believe Finn’s skills could set him up for an NFL career. But he’s not done at Toledo yet.
“He’s probably playing the best football of his life, but we seem to say that every week because he seems to surpass what he had done the week before,” Weiner said. “So I think probably still this is a young man whose best football is still in front of him. And most of all, that’s walking step by step and parallel with his own personal growth as a young man as well. Those two things are complementing each other at a perfect time.
“I’ve said to him in our meeting room, his level of mental and emotional preparation in the last three weeks has just upped to a level we could probably never even imagine that he’d be at some time ago. So to really say there is some kind of limitation here in the coming weeks as to what he can do, I think that would be a really, really, really big mistake.”
Finn doesn’t put a limit on himself. After all, that would stray from the ATI mindset.
But he does believe the toil of the past few years is bearing the kind of results he hoped for.
“I’m just real blessed to be in this spot right now,” Finn said. “It just shows the hard work I’ve put in and the patience I’ve put in. My time is finally here.”