Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly joked about giving senior receiver Robby Toma 20 carries a game recently. There isn’t a shred of truth to that statement. But Toma, who is lumped into a new hybrid group of running backs/slot receivers under the supervision of assistant coach Tony Alford, kept the gag going.
“I always tell [Kelly] that he finally figured out my talents and now he’s starting to utilize them,” the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder said. “Hey, nobody thought I could do it. When I get out there I think everybody is surprised.”
Toma was a featured back during his Pop Warner days back in Hawaii. Though he’s not going to take carries away from seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, who lined up the last two seasons in the slot, he realizes the importance of Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck’s Martin versatility push.
“The whole thing with our offense now is everybody needs to learn every position,” said Toma, who caught 19 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown last season. “We have so many lethal players that the more they know the better it is for our team.”
The changes, Toma said, have made spring practice much more exciting.
“Absolutely,” Toma added. “I don’t know if [tight end Tyler] Eifert ever flanked out. Now you see him all over the place. For myself, I’m back there in the backfield every once in a while. Don’t look deep into things that you see. It’s just that we need to know every position on the field to help our team.”
Bit by bit, that’s what Toma’s done throughout his career at Notre Dame. Often referred to as a bonus player landed by the Irish when best friend Manti Te’o decided to call South Bend his second home, Toma began to emerge as a reliable and shifty backup in 2010. He caught 14 balls for 187 yards that season and entered the spring of 2011 as a vocal leader along with John Goodman while former star wideout Michael Floyd was suspended. When Riddick battled an injury late last year, Toma caught 16 passes for 172 yards over the last four contests (no catches in the regular season finale at Stanford).
Toma feels like he has much more to offer in 2012. So does everyone else in the program.
“The respect from your teammates and from the staff means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m just going out there every day trying to better myself and better my teammates.
“I do [feel like a starter] — if not a starter, a key contributor. I know I still have a lot of doubters. I’m just trying to play for my family, my friends, myself and try to represent them the best I can. Now I don’t feel like I’m fighting every day. I’m still fighting, but I feel like the coaches know I can do some things out there and it feels a lot better and gives me a lot of confidence.”
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