GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Lev Holly, the football coach at Blount High School in Eight Mile, Ala., says he wasn’t surprised while watching the fourth quarter of Florida’s spring game Friday night.
Not by true freshman Kadarius Toney’s blazing speed on designed quarterback runs or by his instincts to turn a broken play into a passing touchdown late in the Gators’ Orange & Blue Debut.
“I thought it was very impressive. I’m not surprised,” Holly said by phone Monday. “I think he prepared himself well. One thing we talk about when I sit down and talk with [players headed to college] is mindset … staying humble in the process and taking what’s available to you.”
That’s what Holly’s former quarterback has tried to do this spring as an early enrollee at Florida.
Toney, who was ranked a 3-star recruit as an “athlete,” chose the Gators because they told him he’d get a chance at quarterback. Not every program recruiting the speedy playmaker from the Mobile, Ala., area would make that same pledge.
He isn’t really in contention for the Gators’ starting quarterback job, not this year at least, but he’s made an impression nonetheless. While his old coach wasn’t surprised, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound newcomer opened some other eyes with his performance Friday night.
Toney even had Florida coach Jim McElwain raving after he rushed for 74 yards on 5 carries and completed 3 of 5 passes for 24 yards and a touchdown, albeit while going against third-team defenders.
“I was really excited about Kadarius,” McElwain said. “Obviously, we know what we have there. That’ll be a guy that needs to touch the ball for us.”
As a high school senior, Toney passed for 2,894 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing for 894 yards and 15 scores. The year before, he had passed for 3,604 yards and 37 touchdowns and rushed for 896 yards and 16 scores, all while leading Blount to a 20-5 record over those two seasons.
Holly says after Toney committed to Florida, new Oregon coach Willie Taggart showed interest in luring him out west. As Holly preaches to his players, though, a commitment is a commitment, and Toney was ready to follow through on his opportunity in Gainesville while trying to prove he could stick at the quarterback position.
“One of his things going in is, ‘I’ve done it all my life,'” Holly said. “He’s worked really hard to perfect the craft. … I talked to coach McElwain, talked to [offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier] and [director of player personnel Drew Hughes] and said, ‘Just give my guy a legitimate shot and he’ll excel.’ I’m proud of him, Blount’s proud of him, Eight Mile’s proud of him.”
The Gators honored their promise, working Toney at quarterback all spring, and he got his showcase under the lights in The Swamp on Friday night, taking over at QB in the final moments of the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, he dropped back and took off running, making defensive end Antonneous Clayton — one of the few big names left on the field — miss on a one-armed tackle attempt before outrunning two more defenders and going out of bounds for a 10-yard gain.
Toney took a shot on the sideline, drawing a personal foul penalty on the defense, and then went right back to work on the next play. He faked a handoff left before bursting through a gap on the right side for a 15-yard gain.
On the final play of that series, he again faked the handoff and this time rolled left, only to be met by a pack of three defenders. He pivoted, spun backwards to free himself and while jogging toward the left sideline tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to walk-on Tucker Nordman in the front left corner of the end zone.
“That’s one of those things that, sometimes playmakers make plays, right? You know the old, ‘Ah, don’t do that — way to go,'” McElwain said later.
Toney capped the game with a 34-yard scamper, again showing that blazing speed while shooting through the defense.
Again, it needs to be kept in perspective as he was facing a defense of mostly third-teamers, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless.
Impressive enough to have fans and McElwain alike buzzing afterward.
“He’s really a good football player. He’s a guy, like I said, that needs to have the ball in his hands,” McElwain reiterated. “We never did play-action [and] put it deep like he was able to show during practice. But he’s got a very strong arm. You can see that with the quick release that jumped on a couple guys. But you know, he’s got a ways to go. Got to learn how to protect the ball a little bit too, and yet, he’s a guy that — I’m glad he’s a Gator.”
Gators defensive back Chauncey Gardner Jr. also commented on Toney’s big plays.
“That’s a daily thing,” he said. “He’s quick, elusive. He’s a running back playing quarterback. And when he’s out there, like coach says, you’ve got to respect the guy.”
Gardner meant the “running back playing quarterback” line purely as a compliment, but during the limited windows of practice that were open to the media this spring, Toney looked to be erratic as a passer. He doesn’t throw the consistent, smooth spiral that redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask do.
If he has a future at the position, he has a long ways to go as a passer. But it’s becoming more and more clear that he has a future in the offense in some form.
Meanwhile, Holly, his high school coach, advised not to count Toney out at quarterback in the future.
“Once the game, it will slow down for him and once it slows down he’s going to be really good,” he said. “I would not be surprised if you looked up and in a couple years (he’s) pushing for that starting job.”