GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A year ago, the newcomer generating the most buzz in Florida’s preseason camp was a slot receiver and former high school quarterback named Dre Massey.
A torn ACL in the first half of the season opener brought the hype train to a halt, but he’ll get his chance to prove he’s recovered and every bit as dynamic this fall.
Meanwhile, in much the same way, the newcomer generating the most buzz in fall camp this year for the Gators is a slot receiver and former high school quarterback named Kadarius Toney.
“This guy is something,” coach Jim McElwain said Monday. “He needs to touch it. It’s pretty cool to see him out there.”
Toney’s name keeps coming up in conversation this preseason.
After arriving as an early enrollee from Eight Mile, Ala., and going through spring practice as a quarterback, it seemed Toney’s future would come at another position. What’s surprising is how immediate that future has become as he continues to impress at slot receiver while giving the offensive coaches a versatile piece with which to be creative.
“I love him. He’s a playmaker. He can make people miss. [I’ll] be asking him, ‘How do you do a cut like that?’ It’s crazy the things he [does], but he’s a good athlete,” fellow receiver Brandon Powell said of Toney.
“It was in practice, he caught a ball across the middle and I don’t know how he stopped on the dime like that, but he made two people miss. And it’s like, man how the hell did you do that?”
Powell said the coaches have “got him everywhere” and offensive lineman Martez Ivey noted Toney is “adapting out at wide receiver and all the other positions.”
So the question no longer seems to be whether Toney will get on the field this fall, but in how many ways will he be utilized?
He introduced himself to fans late in the spring game while quarterbacking the third-team offense and rushing for 74 yards on 5 carries while also turning a broken play into a touchdown pass. Watching him go through drills at quarterback, he was erratic with his passing and stuck at the bottom of a QB depth chart that would only get deeper with the offseason addition of Malik Zaire and the return to health of Luke Del Rio.
But by all accounts, he’s shown no difficulty adapting to a new position … or positions.
“He came out at quarterback and we seen he’s like a dynamic runner. He could do all of this and just make people miss with ease,” Ivey said. “So we knew if he wasn’t going to play quarterback we’ve got to get him the ball somehow. … He’s confident. He’s calm and quiet, but he’s definitely confident. I mean, I’d be confident too if I was him.”
Powell is a fitting mentor for Toney as he started his Florida career as a running back before making the transition to receiver as a freshman. He recalls the toughest part of the change was picking up the nuances of route running, so he’s offered Toney advice during this process.
“You know I just try to teach him the basic things like releases, playing in the slot you know, how people want to try and put their hands on you. Just things like that, try and teach him route depth, all the little things. But he’s picking up on it,” he said.
In the portions of practice open to the media, limited to individual drills, Toney has looked like a natural pass catcher.
But the most telling indicator is how often McElwain has discussed the freshman this camp.
“Every day he gets better,” McElwain said. “When you look at our third down and red area this guy has showed up in the production piece of it. He’s got natural hands. He’s got some make-you-miss ability.”
And, it seems, a role in the offense when the season kicks off Sept. 2 against Michigan.