By BUDDY MARTIN
Special to woodypaige.com
I don’t want to put too much pressure on an 18-year-old who skipped his prom at Blount High School in Eight Mile, Ala. just so he could enroll in Jim McElwain’s Spring School for Quarterbacks. But take a moment and write down the name Kadarius Toney, who on Friday night provided the most fun and excitement we’ve seen out of a quarterback in The Swamp since the Tim Tebow Era.
While we were all mostly focused on Feliepe Franks’ development as the starter — and, indeed, the lanky redshirt freshman passed his test — Toney stole the show in the Orange and Blue Spring Game. It was only one play or two, not a body of work, or even series or a quarter. But Gators fans are still buzzing about how he improvised on a touchdown pass, which speaks volumes in itself.
The slumbering Gator Nation was awakened by the flashy antics of this little-known so-called QB/ATH who came on in the fourth quarter and immediately impacted the game, the fans and his teammates.
Can I be honest here? As well as McElwain has done in winning back-to-back SEC East titles, it has been a long dry spell between offensive fireworks and anything that resembles “fun” in the stadium once home of something called “The Fun’NGun.”
Toney is just a baby, doesn’t yet know the playbook and isn’t ready to take the field and run the offense — let alone save the franchise.
But here’s the good news: A new playmaker has arrived for the Gators and he not only plays quarterback, but, I hear, several other positions as well. He can created a positive out of a negative, as he did in Friday night’s Orange and Blue Game, shedding tacklers as moved to his left, scanning the end zone and flipping a touchdown pass to Tucker Norman. He also turned out to be the Orange and Blue game’s leading rusher with 74 yards rushing.
McElwain said on the touchdown pass he experienced one of those coaching no/yes moments. “Ah, don’t do …. Way to go?” is the way Mac described it. Meanwhile, the cameras also caught quarterback coach Doug Nussmeier wearing a wide grin.
Finally, something to rock The Swamp again!
I immediately began researching Toney’s background at Blount High in Eight Mile, Ala. and found out that it gets its name because it’s eight miles from Mobile. I also found out it was a poor, mostly African-American community of 5,242, which was contaminated by spillage from a mercaptan storage tank nine yeas ago after it was struck by lightning, leading to ill health and respiratory problems for some children. The report said, “The chemical odor added to natural gas to help detect leaks, spilled into the soil and groundwater for six months,” according to Alabama state environmental officials.
Up until now, the most famous person from Eight Mile has been former Alabama basketball star Mikhail Torrance. That may be about to change.
Toney had other SEC offers, but decided in May to become a Gator. He said he felt liked Florida was “a good family-like environment — and I wanted to play in a place where it felt like home.”
The opportunity to get on the field right away and “do different things” was appealing to Toney. He also said early enrollment was a key him to learn the playbook.
At this rate maybe he can improvise some of those “Ah, don’t do …. Way to go? plays.
After his Friday night showing, I took a look at some tape of Toney’s high school highlights and I saw what Nussmeier and McElwain had seen before offering him a scholarship.
On tape you could see Toney around the field at lightning quick speed, accelerating through and around defenders. His passes looked pretty accurate but his arm strength was even better and his release was excellent.
It is said he once threw a pass 70 yards in the air. He produced 69 touchdowns in his last two seasons at Blount.
No wonder Toney’s teammates were so excited following the Orange and Blue game after he impressed everyone with his performance, even though he completed just three passes. His teammates say they’ve seen it every day in the 14 practices he has been involved in. They can sense something special about this raw freshman talent. And it’s certainly not going to take Kadarius long to have plenty of new homies.
There is also a fresh energy about Toney that inspires hope for Gator fans who are weary of offensive mediocrity. Granted McElwain has endured a bit of misfortune with injuries, substance abuse, transfers and the like to his quarterbacks, but it’s time to try something new and different. Toney doesn’t have to take every snap, but he must be part of the game plan whether at quarterback or otherwise.
McElwain gets this, which is why he said Toney “needs to have the ball in his hands.”
By the way, I was also impressed with the improvement of Franks — especially his 46-yard toss to John Hammond for the touchdown. Franks only played a half, but clearly he’s going to be the starter. There was nothing else Franks did grab our attention, but he can bring consistency and leadership to the position.
What Toney brings to the offense is hope. So the main takeaway moment from the Orange and Blue Game has to be the kid from Eight Mile, Ala. who was going 100 Miles An Hour. It was impressive.
(Buddy Martin has been one of America’s great sports journalists as a columnist, editor, broadcaster, author and TV producer for five decades. He has won close to 200 awards, including an Emmy. He co-wrote the best-selling book “”Urban’s Way” with coach Urban Meyer and recently releasased his latest book, co-authored with Steve Spurrier, titled “”Head Ball Coach. My Life In Football, Doing It Differently — and Winning.” The book is available on Amazon and already is a best-seller.
He is a third-generation Floridian and journalist, having begun his early career at the Ocala Star-Banner where his father and grandfather also launched their careers. From there, Buddy had a distinguished career in newspapers as editor/columnist at Florida Today, Gannett News Service, the St. Petersburg Times, The New York Daily News and The Denver Post. As managing editor of The Charlotte Sun in Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Martin directed coverage of Hurricane Charley which won many state and national awards — and was one of three finalists in the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.
For his role as an associate producer and editorial consultant for the NFL Today Show on CBS, Buddy was awarded an Emmy.Returning to his hometown a few years ago, Martin has served as editor in chief of Ocala Magazine and a columnist for Ocala Style.
Martin is the author of eight books. He also wrote the autobiographies of two Hall of Fame athletes – Terry Bradshaw and Dan Issel — and was awarded an Emmy while working with Bradshaw on “The NFL Today” at CBS Sports.
Among the awards he or his newspapers have claimed were best Best Lifestyle Section nationally (Penny-Missouri), Best Sunday Sports Section nationally (APSE), Best Feature Writer New York State (Associated Press) and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news (2005). He has been named best columnist or sports columnist in Florida for both magazines and newspapers six times.
Buddy is a Gator through-and-through. He was educated at the University of Florida.
He is a regular contributor to woodypaige.com.