GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The clamoring from some Florida fans continued well after Kadarius Toney’s promising first season as a slot receiver and versatile wildcat playmaker last fall.
They wanted to see Toney get a shot at quarterback, clinging to the highlight of his one 50-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland along with his general shiftiness and creativity with the ball in his hands.
The question came up at each one of new Florida coach Dan Mullen’s pre-spring speaking tour events last month, with Mullen’s responses getting more and more direct each time. On the third of three straight nights, Mullen finally said plainly that if Toney wants to play at the next level, it’s going to be as a receiver.
Until Thursday, though, nobody had heard Toney share his thoughts on the matter publicly.
As it turns out, the former high school quarterback from Mobile, Ala., is plenty content with his position change and what it means for his future with the Gators.
“It wasn’t that hard. I felt like basically like I wanted to use my ability to my strength because I know I can do … I’m versatile is basically what I’m trying to say,” Toney said Thursday after practice, in his first interview with local media since arriving on campus more than a year ago. “… Yeah, I wanted to play [quarterback], but I got to do what’s best for the team. It ain’t so much about me; it’s about everybody else really.”
It’s perhaps even easier to get excited about his future as a receiver when Mullen has said multiple times that he sees Toney playing a similar role to what Gators legend Percy Harvin once played in the same offense.
“[He] reminds me [of a] guy that’s a playmaker. You look at a Percy Harvin that we’ve had in the past when I was here, had played a lot of high school quarterback and did a lot of different things coming in,” Mullen said. “But obviously when he has the ball in his hands is extremely dynamic.”
Harvin finished his Gators career with 1,852 rushing yards on 9.5 yards per carry with 1,929 receiving yards and 32 total touchdowns over three seasons, contributing to two national championship teams before going on to star in the NFL.
Yeah, Toney thinks he could take to that role just fine.
“It’s kind of an honor, really, just to know what Percy did in the past and implementing that into today’s game,” he said. “I think [my style] fits it a lot with a lot of quick stuff. The way that they [utilize] me is going to be tremendous, I think.”
Especially if Toney can put in a healthy sophomore season.
He became an instant fan favorite last fall, juking Tennessee defenders like a video game character in the second game of the season while setting expectations high.
He’d score on a 36-yard rushing touchdown the next week at Kentucky — his personal favorite highlight— while tossing that 50-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland in the same game, but a separated shoulder in the middle of the season hampered him the rest of the way as he finished with 120 rushing yards (on 8.6 yards per carry) and 15 catches for 152 yards.
“It was on and off. Some days I’d be good, the next day I would get hit in it and it would just deteriorate my ability to what I can do because I’d be running with one arm trying to fight off people with one arm,” Toney said.
All the while, he was still learning a new position and clearly limited in the playbook, or at least in the role he was granted within the coaches’ game plan.
He admits the transition was more of a learning process than he envisioned after going through last spring with the quarterbacks.
“I would say getting used to the technique that the wide receiver had to do, it looked easy from like the quarterback standpoint when I watched them, but once you get into it, it’s way different,” Toney said.
His hope now is that experience, combined with a healthy season and a spread offense that will in theory better utilize him, will unleash his full playmaking potential.
Sure, he came to Florida hoping to be a QB, but he’s not looking back now — only ahead, and hopefully with some open field in front of him to show what he can do.
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