Senior staff writer
Cole Toner has returned to his apartment in Tempe, Ariz., where he is enjoying his first offseason after a promising rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals.
Toner, a 2012 graduate of Roncalli, stands as the Southside’s only active player in the NFL. The 6-5, 300-pound offensive lineman is even more toned and physically fit than he was in his playing years at Harvard University.
He finds it somewhat surreal that family, friends and fans can buy a No. 61 Cole Toner replica Arizona football jersey at www.azcardinals.com.
“That’s a pretty cool accomplishment at this point,” Toner said.
Toner recently returned to his roots for a couple of weeks to be with parents Angie and Dave Toner, friends and former Rebels teammates. He attended a couple of basketball games and worked out at Roncalli, where he talked with former coach Bruce Scifres and made time to be interviewed by The Southsider Voice.
Toner realizes his legacy at Roncalli and to future student-athletes.
“I had several role models growing up at Roncalli,” Toner said. “It’s a role that I gladly want to fill for the kids. The players who were there last year took hold of the program and made it work (2016 state title). I’m really proud of those guys and what they accomplished.”
Toner said he watched via Livestream the Rebels’ 4A state championship win against Northview during the Cardinals’ road trip in Atlanta.
He was drafted by the Cardinals in the fifth round. He was the first offensive lineman from Harvard to be drafted since 1998 (six-time Pro Bowl lineman Matt Birk) and the first player from the Southside since A.J. Eads of Greenwood.
Toner also revealed that the pressure to perform on the football field has intensified at each stop from high school to college to the Cardinals.
“The camaraderie is way different because of the different ages of the players and they have separate lives,” Toner said. “There’s definitely more pressure on each player because this is your living.
“Everyone is a freak in the NFL. The conditioning is different and your preparation is intense. You basically live, breathe, eat and sleep football.”
His study habits at Roncalli and Harvard helped him to overcome the demands of pro football. At Harvard the Crimson utilized a hurry-up no-huddle offense. But as an offensive lineman for Arizona he had to learn a different offense, all new plays with each play called in the huddle, different techniques, and adapt to new coaches.
“This is a tough game mentally. At least I wasn’t thrown to the wolves.”
Toner earned his spot on the Cardinals’ roster after a successful preseason. He was ranked as the top preseason guard by Pro Football Focus, an analytics online site. The Cardinals were deep in offensive lineman, but Toner finally played in late-season games at Seattle and Los Angeles.
Summing up his path, he simply concluded, “Playing in high school was tough, college was tougher, but this is really tougher.”
At Roncalli, Toner was a team captain as a senior and earned first-team 4A All-State honors.
He started 34 games at Harvard, where he selected to The Associated Press’ FCS All-America first team and All-Ivy League first team and semifinalist for the academic William V. Campbell Trophy.
Arizona is a good fit for Toner. He visited the Phoenix/Tempe area several times with his parents, and his dad’s sisters live there. He would have preferred being drafted by the Colts, but calls Arizona his second home.
Toner’s parents went to all his Harvard home games and extended that trend to the Cardinals for six home games and two road games.