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Florida Football

ITG Feature: Not the next Percy Harvin, but the first Kadarius Toney

July 30, 2018
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Not Percy Harvin.

That’s all the caption read.

The picture accompanying the caption—posted by Kadarius Toney—came in the middle of the summer, following a spring when head coach Dan Mullen and staff had made several comparisons between the sophomore Toney and the Florida legend Harvin.

The parallel was easy to make and one Mullen addressed on his pre-spring speaking tour.

“Very similar to a Percy Harvin,” Mullen said. “… [Harvin] played a lot of high school quarterback, came to Florida and ended up being a pretty good everything. If you know the offense we run, we’re going to use Kadarius in a lot of different ways similar to how we used Percy.”

In Toney’s first year in Gainesville he saw time as a wildcat quarterback, a receiver, a running back. He was able to line up all over the field and with each shift he looked more and more like the former Gator.

Toney himself understands what it means to have his name linked to the former All-American: "It's kind of an honor, really, just to know what Percy did in the past and implementing that into today's game."

And yet, there’s an understandable sense of hesitancy from the young athlete, the desire to be recognized not for any likeness to someone else but for what he brings to the game himself. It’s something Mullen recognizes and wants to encourage.

"You have to get him the ball. He's not your typical receiver who's going to 'route' someone to get open, he doesn't know how to run routes or beat press [coverage], he's just a football player. You can't just line him up in the slot and expect him to get open, that's not him. When they find a role for him and a way to use him he is going to be dangerous.”
- Anonymous Player Parting Thoughts

“I think that’s always tough on young people. As one guy leaves, Tim Tebow leaves as quarterback at Florida, who’s the next Tim Tebow? I don’t need the next Tim Tebow. Dak Prescott left Mississippi State, Nick Fitzgerald took over. Well is he gonna be the next Dak? No he’s gonna be the first Nick. But you gotta embrace who you are

“I love doing their own thing…I think maybe the comparison comes because they were similar players in high school, playing all different types of positions, high school quarterback, ran all over the place. And he’s playing the same position that Percy played when he was at Florida.

“I think the fans, they see guys that do similar things, they always like to try to compare, who’s he like? I don’t that’s really fair to the players because you’re your own player, and I should never try to do that with them. But I think it happens sometimes…but I try not to compare one player to another.”

So, he’s not Percy Harvin. We can establish that. Now the question becomes, who exactly is Kadarius Toney?

As a freshman he wasn’t allowed to speak with media. He finally got to introduce himself once after a spring practice in April. That’s still a very small sample size by which to paint a picture of Toney though.

So, we went on a quest to ask those who know him best.

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WHATEVER HE WANTS TO BE

K.T. is from Eight Mile, Alabama; it’s a small suburb made up of towering pine trees and strip malls, clinging to the western edge of Mobile so as not to be sucked into Mississippi. You can be forgiven if on first take you mistake it with the location of the Eminem movie by the same name. Some people do. However, no, it’s not where Eminem's character Jimmy Smith is from - but it could be. The local high school, Blount, has produced quality offensive talent for the past decade, doing their part to keep the Bay area a somewhat unheralded but consistent fertile talent area. But Blount offensive coordinator A.J. Johnson can still remember the first time he knew K.T. was going to be special.

Sitting in his office, following a summer workout where he’s currently trying to mold a young passer who “reminds me so much of K.T.”, Johnson lets himself forget about the present and smile back on a time when Kadarius Toney was still just the kid killing time in practice.

“I was giving K.T. his first reps as a freshman…I say ‘K.T. come on you’re up.’ He was just over there flicking the ball. And I tell him ‘it’s twin right, two J, gator post, x now’ and he was like ok. It wasn’t no repeat it or nothing. He said ‘everybody up, everybody up, nobody talk in the huddle.’

“He ran the ball, then he looked back over—‘next play Coach?’…[head coach] Coach Parker said ‘come here Coach A.J.’; I said ‘what’s up Coach?’ He said ‘that’s gonna be Blount’s next quarterback.’”

K.T. the quarterback went on to become one of Blount’s most prolific signal callers. [al.com: Blount dual-threat quarterback] In his final two seasons alone he threw for 6,498 yards, ran for 1,790 more and was responsible for 100 touchdowns. The stats only tell part of the story though.

“He was an athlete playing quarterback.”

That’s how Coach A.J. describes his former player. It looked like it was going to bite him following his sophomore season of high school. A playoff loss against No. 1 seed McAdory had the Blount head coach, fans and even teammates asking for a new passer.

“The offseason comes, no body wanted to work out with K.T. quarterback wise…they wanted him as a [defensive back] or safety.”

Seeing that losing the game had also lost the locker room, Johnson went to his young quarterback and told him he had could decide how his career went from that point forward.

“I saw his potential his sophomore year but the work ethic he put in after his sophomore year—everybody say he couldn’t make the out route throw, he couldn’t throw the 3-yard flat.

“I said if you let this break you down, you’re never gonna be a football player…when I saw that he didn’t back down, he wanted to do it, he cried, he was hurting, I was like man we’re gonna put the work in, get you through it.”

Johnson, having played professionally—even with Danny Wuerffel for a time at the Saints—he called in some favors. That summer Toney went through practices and drills and film sessions put together by college and NFL quarterbacks. He spent a week, out on the practice field in Eight Mile working with Dameyune Craig, the former Auburn and Carolina Panthers quarterback who got his start by delivering Blount two state championships in 1990 and 1992.

That summer Johnson was faced with a huge obstacle as K.T.’s coach and mentor—“We knew he could do it but how do we get it to the field?”—And by summer’s end Craig was able to turn to him and say, “he’s gonna be good, just stay on him. He can be great for you at quarterback and next level he can whatever he want to be.”

DISCOVERING HIS DESTINY

What he wants to be has changed from time to time over the years, but it’s always been touched with a tinge of destiny. That’s how Kadarius’ dad describes the youngest of seven.

Dana Toney is a soft-spoken Navy veteran, only slightly louder than the clanging cups behind him in the downtown Mobile coffee shop where he sits to discuss his baby boy. Just a few blocks away sits Ladd Peebles stadium, home to the annual Senior Bowl where the elder Toney saw his son’s path start. It was at the game in 1999 when K.T.’s mom went into labor.

“He was destined for it,” his dad chuckles.

Despite this, Dana kept his baby out of sports for the first few years of his life, not wanting to push anything on him. At five years old K.T. finally saw and comprehended his first football game. He was hooked and immediately started asking his dad when he could play. Next year, dad promised.

“The upcoming season he’s bothering me, ‘dad can I play?’ I forgot I had even told him this. Keep in mind he’d never played football or any sport at that time. So I said you know what I’ll take you but I’m thinking he ain’t gonna play. So I take him out, and he’s this scrawny, he’s not large enough.”

But by the second practice the coach had him at quarterback, playing with a team full of kids bigger than him.

“I was afraid, thought I was walking him down the valley into the shadow of death,” he quips, “thinking he’s not gonna like that but he got out there right away and showed me—he’s not the fastest kid in the family but wait a minute, we have a little something here so we’ll see how it works.”

It was the same tenacity that he would later show in high school and college, and thinking back it’s something that shouldn’t have been surprising, remembers Dana. This is after the all the kid who would spend every Sunday afternoon after church, running around his Grandma’s yard, playing flag football and being challenged to foot races by his older siblings and cousins. He wasn’t the fastest and he certainly wasn’t the biggest. But he’d find a way to hang with them, scraping and clawing, relying on skills he learned from defending himself against the roughhousing that comes with having older brothers. It’s that sort of attitude that Dana thinks about when he is posed with the question, who is Kadarius Toney?

“I call him Kat. The reason I call him Kat is I told him, go try to pick up a cat that don’t want to be touched, you can’t touch it. So he can side-step, swipe, and move forward so you have cat like quickness. That’s one of this biggest strengths, is his ability to gain yards after first contact. One of his other strengths is his ability to take on and retain plays.”

The latter is a quality that Coach A.J. expounds about the athlete as well.

“I had to be on top of my game when we’re watching film,” admits the coach.

“I had to be able to critique everything before because when I bring it to him, I already knew his IQ is so un-chartable.”

USA Today Sports Images

A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME

A high I.Q. doesn’t always make the game easy. Anyone who’s watched K.T. try to be a pure wide receiver in college will tell you that he has had trouble grasping route concepts. Even Kadarius himself will admit that.

“It looked easy from like the quarterback standpoint when I watched them, but once you get into it, it's way different,” he told reporters during spring ball.

“I mean I’m an athlete so I wouldn’t really put my all my skills into one spot but quarterback, it was pretty much, it was easier because I was able to move how I want to. Receiver it’s kinda harder because you gotta fight off defenders, try to get open, try to make the perfect catch, stuff like that…looking from a quarterback standpoint you looking at receivers like get off the line, like just that as a whole is really hard.”

It’s something Coach A.J. has talked with K.T. about a lot this offseason, pushing him like he has since he was a young 8th grader showing flashes of incredible potential.

“I said it’s timing, you gotta be able to break the route, it’s body language, it’s all this. I said yea you know where a receiver supposed to be when you throwing the ball to him, but knowing how to break down your routes, sit in, get in and out, released at the top, you gotta be able to do that at wide receiver. Read it, YouTube it, see other guys doing it.

“When he learns defense from them coaches, he's gonna be unstoppable…reading coverage’s on the move. See he hadn’t learnt that yet and when he learn that he won’t make so many cuts. When you making a lot of cuts you still figuring yourself out, you just reacting. But if you on the move reading, you already know that zone coverage…don’t waste that cut. That’s when I know he gonna be great.”

“This is what I told him; you gotta become a sponge,” adds Dana.

“Just absorb everything they say. Don’t overthink it. you gotta trust your coaches so the transition was different because he knew the game through the lens of a quarterback. He didn’t know that to run a route you got to run the route to get yourself open. I said if you just run, just run the pass routes—by the way he looks really good on his pass routes.”

THE MOLDING OF A MAN

Those who know Kadarius feel he’ll get there sooner rather than later, thanks to a lifetime of discipline. Two of his brothers followed their dad’s footsteps into the military and K.T. came close his senior year in high school to joining the Marines. A conversation with his dad had him choosing football instead, but to be played while perusing a degree in criminal justice. He wants to be a police officer, a state trooper if dreams are met.

When he comes home to visit family, he must follow two rules. Go to church and go see his coaches. His conversations with family center primarily around academics—hardly ever football—and an older sister who’s a teacher keeps him supplied with timelines and plans to achieve all of his academic road markers on time.

It’s an attitude and upbringing that family and coaches are hoping manifest itself in Gainesville, and one which says a recent story surfacing about Toney and several other players being in a confrontation on campus involving air-soft rifles won’t be swept under the rug in the Toney household or with K.T. himself, but it also won’t be hung over his head.

Even if this side of K.T. doesn’t result in polished route running, it also means he won’t be kept on the sideline, something even Gator teammates recognized right away.

In our recent “Anonymous Player Parting Thoughts,” the former Florida player said about Toney, “He can't run routes at all, but he's a dynamic player. I don't know where you play him or how you do it, but you have to get him the ball. He's not your typical receiver who's going to 'route' someone to get open, he doesn't know how to run routes or beat press [coverage], he's just a football player. You can't just line him up in the slot and expect him to get open, that's not him. When they find a role for him and a way to use him he is going to be dangerous.”

Dangerous is a word that was used to describe Kadarius often, by anyone who spoke of him. It’s what led Coach A.J. to even link him to Harvin, unbeknownst to him at the time that the comparison had been made by coaches and hedged by Toney.

“I’m gonna talk to his ass too cause that’s a blessing for them to even consider you in the same sentence as Percy Harvin,” Johnson jokingly chided before explaining why the link was so easy for people to pick up on.

“Percy was a home run hitter no matter where he was on the field. If he had the ball in his hands, he was a threat no matter where it was. You feel when he had the ball in his hands. And with K.T. with that comparison, I know he’s young but people are starting and will feel him with the ball in hands and that’s the comparison.”

So who is K.T.?

Not Percy Harvin. But he may be Florida’s best chance to recreate the magic and if that happens he’ll be the Gators first Kadarius Toney.

ITG Feature: Not the next Percy Harvin, but the first Kadarius Toney

4,666 Views | 7 Replies | Last: 2 yr ago by Eric-UF
Gator_Chompz
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I am in the camp of stop comparing him to Percy Harvin. There is only one Percy and he is a Gator legend. Let KT be KT
Sgun2.0
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First off, GREAT story and write up. Well done.

Secondly, much respect to Mr and Mrs Toney. What a great job raising their family.
KassidyHill
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I think KT would agree haha
KassidyHill
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Thank you! It was really interesting getting to learn more about him and his dad provided so much insight.
Sgun2.0
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Can I take it back!? Jk. Hopefully this is a non issue
KassidyHill
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Haha when stuff started coming out my first though too was like "what the heck. This is off from what I thought."

If you go read the thread I just posted breaking down the cops body cam footage though, they mention Toney not having any sort of attitude and being cooperative. His attitude kept the situation calm when it could have easily escalated.
Eric-UF
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Well, I guess one way to seperate yourself as "not percy" would be to carry an AR15 around with you.

Toney hasn't had any issues (that we know of), but he better get his crap together before he turns out just like Callaway.
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