Senior staff writer
Former Roncalli football player Cole Toner is preparing himself for life after college.
An All-State high school lineman and Academic All-State team honoree, Toner just began his final semester at Harvard as a government major.
Before graduating in May, Toner has several important dates on his calendar: Jan. 30, the annual Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.; Feb. 23-29, the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium; and April 28-30, the NFL draft.
Each event has particular importance to Toner, son of Roncalli athletic administrators Dave and Angie Toner.
“The game itself is not as important as the practices and the one-on-one drills,” Toner said during an interview while he was on the Southside. “It’s the big one because all the eyes of NFL scouts and the media are on you for a full week. It’s time for me to make the most of a great opportunity.”
As of Jan. 15, Toner was the only Ivy Leaguer to accept an invitation to play in the bowl (1:30 p.m., NFL Network).
After the game, Toner will continue his studies at Harvard while preparing for the NFL Combine and the three-day Draft. Toner hopes to follow a long line of successful NFL players from the Ivy League, including quarterback Sid Luckman (Columbia), Chicago Bears; linebacker Chuck Bednarik (Pennsylvania), Philadelphia; center Matt Birk (Harvard), Minnesota; punter Pat McInally (Harvard), Cincinnati; and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard), New York Jets.
Toner has spoken several times with former Harvard defensive end Zack Hodges, who was signed by the Colts for the 2015 season. Toner, an offensive tackle, went against Hodges in practices at Harvard for three years.
“We were able to make each other better,” Toner said.
Toner returned to his family’s Greenwood home in early December. He attended basketball games at Roncalli and began two-a-day workouts Jan. 2 at St. Vincent Sports Performance in preparation for the draft.
“I’m trying to be realistic about it,” Toner said. “I actually started more games for Harvard than I did at Roncalli. I think I began to realize the NFL was a possibility at the start of my junior year, but the goals at Harvard aren’t necessarily the NFL. The goals are to become Ivy League champions and enjoy the camaraderie of your teammates.”
The two-time all-Ivy League offensive tackle also knows that he will have to be versatile if he is to be drafted and eventually play in the NFL. He is trying to adapt to the possibility of playing guard or center, a position he hasn’t played since his freshman year at Roncalli.
His draft chances are somewhat unknown, but he has drawn good reviews, particularly his Senior Bowl prospect profile: “For the NFL, he is a fit for the zone-scheme offense made famous by OL coach Alex Gibbs (and Denver) that requires more athleticism than bulk and more technique than power. He has excellent potential as a run a pass blocker, and with more strength development, Cole might possibly be a starter within three seasons. He will be very intriguing to pro line coaches because of his height, toughness and change-of-direction/recovery skills.”
Scouts agree, according to the prospect profile, that “seeing him in Mobile against a better level of competition will be very important to his projected draft value.”
Toner said he believes his experiences at Harvard and Roncalli have molded him for the future. He was sold on the Crimson on his first visit there with his parents when a student they didn’t know introduced himself and promptly took them on a guided tour of the campus in Cambridge, Mass.
“We play football at Harvard because we love the game,” Toner said. “We are like every (NSCAA) Division 1 program because the practices are so demanding and the expectations are so high. Let’s face it; football for a lot of Harvard players is not in their future after college. The players love the game and the competiveness.”
Toner explained that Ivy League teams, no matter how successful, do not participate in the myriad of bowl games. That makes the season special because Harvard ends its season against traditional foe Yale.
His parents attended every home game that he played at Harvard.
“They molded me as a person,” Toner said with admiration of his parents. “I’m thankful for my family, administrators, coaches and teachers at Roncalli who supported me and those at Harvard who really test you and encourage you. Roncalli prepared me for Harvard academics and athletics as well as I possibly could be prepared.”
When Toner graduated from Roncalli in 2012, he was a 265-pound lineman. He now weighs 303 pounds and wants to add 10 to 12 more pounds by the draft. His future, just as it was at Roncalli, is indeed ahead of him.