No matter the amount of potential former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis believed receiver Robby Toma to have, the 5-9, 185-pounder was mostly viewed by folks outside the program as merely a bonus player. The Punahou High teammate and best friend of super recruit Manti Te’o was a tagalong that might or might not pan out in South Bend.
Senior receiver Robby Toma earned a reputation as a hard worker and reliable playmaker in four years at Notre Dame
Four years later, Toma, who has 56 career receptions for 596 yards and a touchdown, enters his final game at Notre Dame Stadium against Wake Forest having played a crucial role in the team’s growth into an undefeated national title contender.
“I think it’s because we still have [Southern California] and a bowl game,” Toma in response to keeping his emotions in check. “It’s not going to sink in until later, but it has been an amazing experience here. I’m so blessed to be part of this university, getting to meet so many people and I wouldn’t want to go out any other way with any other team.
“…I don’t think I’ve ever been 10-0 in my life. Obviously it’s a real exciting time to be a part of Notre Dame football.”
Toma earned the respect of his coaches and teammates from day one with a work ethic that offset any physical disadvantages.
“He really is mirroring the kind of things we want to do on offense,” head coach Brian Kelly said two years ago when he brought Toma out for 2011 media day. “He was chosen because of the way he’s practiced, the way he prepared, because of the way people on our offense look toward Robby Toma.”
It was the way in which one defensive player in particular leaned on Toma this season that shows just how reliable the slot receiver truly is. When Te’o lost his grandmother and girlfriend in a matter of hours in September, Toma was there to console the Heisman Trophy candidate. The two were allowed to return to Hawaii during the bye week.
He has always had Te’o’s back, is content to sit and answer questions about his famous friend and doesn’t exhibit the slightest bit of jealousy.
“He’s basically my brother,” Toma said. “That guy means everything to me.
Toma kept his head up when he started the 2011 season on the bench after starting the final four games in 2010.
“That was rough,” he said. “I just kept the faith and my family supported me. Towards the end of my junior year I got the nod again. And now my senior year I’ve started a bunch of games (five). The way that I got here wasn’t the easiest road, but it made me who I am today.”
Today, the Irish are in the thick of a title race in November for the first time in nearly two decades. There’s a chance even a 12-0 record won’t be enough to get invited to Miami. No matter what happens, Toma, who is eligible for a fifth season if Notre Dame chooses to bring him back, said the season will be considered a success.
“Absolutely. Even the past three years. We weren’t as successful as we anted to be, but to be as successful as we are [now] … coach talks a lot about laying the foundation when he first got here,” Toma said. “I think we’ve done that. I think teams are going to start respecting Notre Dame and know we’re back. As much as we want to play in that BCS national championship game if we go undefeated, if they don’t allow us in there, we control what we can control and we’re going to be proud of what we’ve done.”