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Toma Keeps Grinding

After being named the 2008 Hawaii Co-Offensive Player of the Year by the Hawaii Register, diminutive receiver Robby Toma was invited to the 2009 Under Armour All-American All-Star Game. He boasted 1,393 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Punahou High in Laie, but didn’t get nearly as much attention as the other hyped players at his position also to earn invitations.

Then Toma went out and beat them all in the best hands competition. You might recognize some of the names.

Alshon Jeffery was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 13th pick in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The former South Carolina star was a 2010 Biletnikoff Award runner-up and he re-wrote the Gamecock record books in three seasons, wracking up 3,042 receiving yards (second all-time in the Southeastern Conference) and 23 touchdowns.

Jheranie Boyd, a native of North Carolina, chose UNC and enters his senior season with 40 receptions for 816 yards and 12 scores. Iowa native Keenan Davis stayed local when he chose the Hawkeyes in 2009, and he enters his last year with 65 catches for 899 yards and six TDs.

Tennessee product Marlon Brown went to Georgia three years ago and has caught 28 passes for 382 yards and four scores in his time in Athens. Duron Carter, son of NFL wideout Chris Carter, began his career at Ohio State, but ran into academic issues. He caught 13 passes for 176 yards and one TD while with the Buckeyes. He transferred briefly to Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College and then to Alabama in April of 2011. He wasn’t academically eligible to play last fall and sat out spring practices this year due to suspension. He left the program in June and joined the Florida Atlantic squad.

Georgia native Jamal Patterson has played in 29 games for Stanford and has nine catches for 104 yards and no touchdowns. Terry Hawthorne, who was named by Parade Magazine as the nation’s top receiver following his senior season in 2008, ended up at Illinois, where he was immediately moved to cornerback. He has started 17 on defense heading into this season, and might play a little receiver this year.

Remember Nu’Keese Richardson? He was an all-America wideout from Pahokee, Fla., who committed to Florida and then famously switched to Tennessee on signing day. In less than a year with the Volunteers he was arrested and dismissed. He transferred to FCS Hampton but never played for the school. In 2011, he played for Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. With eligibility remaining, he quit the game this past winter.

Logan Heastie is in the wind. He went to WVU in 2009 as one of the most heralded WR recruits in program history. A lazy approach and poor attitude immediately earned him a spot in the doghouse. Ranked by many recruiting services as one of the top-10 receivers in the nation, he didn’t play as a freshman and left school. It has been reported that he is considering Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina.

Toma, a senior for the Fighting Irish this year, doesn’t have gaudy numbers (36 catches for 415 yards and one touchdown), but he has continued to grind his way to meaningful minutes is expected to play a significant role this fall.

“To be honest with you, I still think I’m not a starter,” he said. “Once I start to get too comfortable, that’s when other guys catch up to me or even surpass me. I’m just taking it one day at a time, trying to better myself and do what I can do for the team.

“Just to get reps with the ones gives me a lot of confidence. I think the coaches have confidence in me and it means a lot.”

There were times earlier in his career at Notre Dame when Toma (5-9 185 pounds) thought he had earned the coaching staff’s trust, only to realize he had more to prove.

“My sophomore year I went in and started the last three games or something like that,” he said. “We went to the Sun Bowl and I didn’t play a down. Last year I didn’t play in the beginning and then I started the last four or five games. When it came bowl season, I was still the starting Z. I just felt that the work I was doing on the field was starting to pay off.”

Toma has always been confident in his ability, but has remained humble and hard working, because approaching the game any other way would be to his detriment.

“It definitely helps when other people believe in you, but like I said earlier, if I get too comfortable, that can only do me wrong,” he said. “I want to be that guy who’s always working and trying to better myself and better my teammates.”

Now is the time for that. With prolific wide receiver Michael Floyd now in the NFL, the Irish head into 2012 with question marks at the three starting positions. Senior tight end Tyler Eifert will undoubtedly be the focal point in the passing game, but Toma, junior T.J. Jones and fifth-year senior John Goodman have to step up as second, third and fourth options.

If not, someone else will be asked to.

“You don’t want to think this job is mine just because I’m an older guy, just because I’ve worked so hard,” Toma said. “I want to be one of the key guys on the team.”

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