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Florida Football

Behind-the-Scenes: Toney never thought twice about leaving

January 21, 2020
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As the clock hit 00:00 the final on the scoreboard displayed that the Florida Gators were back-to-back New Year’s Six Bowl game winners. It was a storybook ending for a team that lost its incumbent starting quarterback to a season-ending ankle injury during week-three and at times struggled due to injuries. 

For Kadarius Toney, it was proof of how far he and his team had come. 

The junior wide receiver has been no stranger to setbacks.

After amassing 629 all-purpose yards as a sophomore in 2018, he suffered a shoulder injury in 2019 that stole half his season, leaving him to finish his third year in Gainesville with 22 total touches -- 12 rushing and 10 receiving -- for 253 total yards and a touchdown reception. 

Amidst a clogged position group in Florida, he defined himself through his elite athleticism and ability to make opponents miss in space -- of which his 11.5 yards per touch average is a testament to. But as he donned his commemorative 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl Champion shirt, as his teammates celebrated by tossing oranges towards the few remaining fans who continued supporting their team late into the South Florida night, Toney only had one thought on his mind -- to find his family. As he scanned the stadium’s seats, he found his father, Dana Toney, and once they met, they embraced in a hug and laughed. 

Later in the locker room, as the assembled Gainesville media flocked to speak to as many players possible, the constant question asked to Toney was whether he would forgo his remaining eligibility and enter this year’s NFL draft. 

"It won't hurt me to stay another year, but I haven't made a determining decision yet,” Toney told reporters after the Orange Bowl. “I haven't weighed all my options yet. … I have to sit down with my people first and figure it out, really. I don't really know exactly at this moment yet.”

He had until Jan. 17 to decide whether he would remain a Gator or test his luck with the NFL. Two days after the deadline, on Jan. 19, he tweeted out his intention to return to Florida: 

As Inside the Gators reported back on January 8, Toney was at the first football team meeting of the new year.

However, with his silence, the Gator Nation was forced to sit on pins-and-needles awaiting his announcement

According to Mr. Toney, Kadarius informed the Florida coaching staff that he was coming back a while ago. So why wait until two days after the deadline? 

“He just did it, you know, in his time,” Dana Toney said. 

Toney just does things differently.

Unlike most athletes who are aware of the possibility to earn millions of dollars if they were to announce early entry to the draft, according to his father, Dana Toney, his son’s mind was on Florida and how he could continue performing at the highest level. 

“We never had that conversation,” Dana Toney said about the chances of his son departing for the NFL draft. “We never thought twice about anything like that. … Darius loves Gainesville. He loves the Florida Gators. He’s a team player.”

According to Dana, the allure of an NFL paycheck did little to sway his son’s opinion.

“Could money help? Yes,” Dana Toney said. “Money shouldn’t be a motivator. I think that degree is something you have for a lifetime.” 

Additionally, Dana Toney declined to seek advice from draft experts throughout his son’s 2019 season. According to the father, he understood how much of a distraction such advice could have created, knowing his son’s future remained in Gainesville. 

Though he suffered a setback with his shoulder injury, Dana said injury concerns never entered the equation. 

But even without the help of draft experts, it’s easy to see how Kadarius’ skill-set could be coveted in the modern NFL, where speed and athleticism help add to an offense’s potency. 

In a motion-heavy offense that requires its skill-position players to create mismatches with their speed and agility, Kadarius will be an invaluable asset on a bargain-value rookie contract. 

But with his team’s success in mind, Kadarius knew the merit of staying one more season in Gainesville. As much as it’s one more chance to prove his size won’t lead to injury concerns, it’s a chance for him to lead his team to the program’s first playoff berth. 

“He doesn’t care about the spotlight being on him,” Dana Toney said. “He wants to win. He wants to win. That’s why he never thought twice about it [leaving].”

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