Surprising himself: Playmaker Toney’s UF highlight reel is breathtaking

Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney gains huge yardage in the first half against FSU in the Nov. 30 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Doug Engle/Staff photographer]
There is no flight plan or pattern. When the human joystick lights up, producing those crazy cuts and cutbacks, those dizzying reversals back and forth across the field, they’re coming naturally and instinctively.
Sometimes Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney even stuns himself with some of his myriad manic move combinations.
Take the play he made against Florida State last November. After taking a little scoop pass from quarterback Kyle Trask in the backfield, he appeared hemmed in by two defenders on the edge. But he made one of those ankle-breaking cuts of his that not only made the two defenders miss, it made them collide, injuring one.
From there, Toney went into full joystick mode, cutting back, darting around defenders, making others miss before he was finally brought down after a 47-yard gain that started off looking like a five-yard loss.
“The most memorable play that I’ve made,” he said. “Everything happened so fast. I didn’t even know what I was doing. Everything was just so quick and spontaneous. It was like, ‘Wow.’ I surprise myself with different moves.
“When I see that (on tape), it’s mind blowing that I really can do that. I’m just as surprised as the fans, overwhelmed in a way. But I’ve been playing the same way since I was knee-high. I’ve just always been that guy.”
That guy is an explosive, dynamic, game-changing offensive weapon. That’s why Florida coach Dan Mullen is always talking about making sure Toney gets his share of touches in games. That doesn’t always translate into him actually getting them. As a result, his three-year UF highlight reel is breathtaking but relatively brief.
For his career, he has 49 receptions for 575 yards and three touchdowns and has rushed for 458 yards. This past season his numbers were down — 10 catches for 194 yards and a TD and 59 yards rushing — but mainly because he missed six games in the middle of the season with an injured shoulder/back.
He expects his numbers to grow exponentially in 2020. Not just because he’s 100-percent healthy again, but because more opportunities are going to be there with the Gators losing those four senior wide receivers from last season — Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond.
“Yeah, I feel like my role is possibly going to change, to open up even more,” Toney said. “It was very tough mentally last season. I wanted to be out there with those guys, fighting every week with my brothers. It took a toll on me. I’m just happy to be back right now.
“Hopefully, I’ll have an outstanding year and hopefully we win the (national) championship. I just want to leave it all on the field. I want to put it all out there.”
Toney is back for his senior season after pondering the possibility of leaving early for the NFL. Just like when he creates one of those joystick moments, he followed his instincts to arrive at his decision.
“I thought of my education,” he said. “I know a lot of players who leave don’t come back and finish school. My first goal coming to Florida, I wanted to get my college degree.
“And I just didn’t feel like I was mentally ready, mentally prepared for the next level. I want to make sure I’m intact before I put myself in that position.”
The position Toney’s in now is this: he’s UF’s most explosive playmaker, he’s one of the Gators’ most experienced wide receivers and he’s a senior who is going to be counted on to take on a leadership role in 2020.
He’s ready to lead and make plays, thanks in part to those four seniors receivers from last season, he said.
“We looked up to those guys, in the leadership role and in life,” Toney said. “Those guys know how to carry themselves. Those are guys we aspire to be like. After being around them, I think we’ll be prepared to take the step that they took (their senior year) to be successful.”
There’s one thing almost certain about Toney’s next step: it will be a quick one.