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Kadarius Toney can make school history in final Florida game

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida's Kadarius Toney scores a touchdown against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Toney started all 11 games and averaged 130.8 all-purpose yards per game touching the ball five different ways – receiving, rushing, passing and returning kicks and punts.

An 18-year drought for Florida is set to end Wednesday in the Cotton Bowl matchup against Oklahoma. 

Senior Kadarius Toney, who it appears will not opt out after participating in Saturday’s practice, has a chance to make school history in his final game as a Gator. He’s 16 yards away from becoming UF’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs in 2002 (1,088). 

Florida has had 12 receivers drafted since Jacobs, including former five-star recruits and a trio of NFL draft picks in the first two rounds. Only three of the dozen — Chad Jackson (2005), Dallas Baker (2006) and Riley Cooper (2009) — hit the 900-yard mark in a single season. 

Toney

And now, a former high school quarterback and gadget player during his first three years at UF will be the one who eclipses 1,000 yards. Toney transformed himself into an every-down receiver this offseason and had a feeling both he and the Gators would have a breakout year on offense. 

“I learned that as long as I'm focused, I feel like I can do anything,” said Toney, who has 70 catches for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020. “Once we got in the groove of just practicing after the shutdown, I realized and looked at the team after maybe a couple weeks of camp. The way we were moving around, coming together, I just feel like it was one of those years.”

Toney has twice as many receptions as his junior and sophomore seasons combined, posting 100-yard receiving games in his last three outings and four of his last five. With 105 yards receiving against Oklahoma, Toney can surpass Jacobs for seventh place on the school’s list of single-season leaders for receiving yards. 

When third-year coach Dan Mullen arrived at Florida and began featuring Toney in the slot, he was likened to former Gator Percy Harvin because of his skill set and usage. But with his production as a senior, Toney has erased those comparisons and is now recognized as an elite receiver in his own right. 

“I don't like comparing guys because they all have very different traits. The reasons for comparison are the playmaking abilities,” Mullen said of Harvin and Toney. “Percy, when you put the ball in his hands, special things happen. Kadarius, put the ball in his hands and special things happen. But, KT is KT. He’s amazing, not just as an athlete. 

“He went from a guy that was a playmaker into a guy that is one of the best wide receivers in the country. He's a return specialist on punting, kickoffs. You can bring him into the backfield and have him run the ball. We haven't had him throw it a ton, but he might have the strongest arm on the team. And, he's become a very technical route runner that has great hands.”

Toney has improved his route running under the tutelage of UF wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales. One of his trademark moves is the jerk route, a shallow crossing route with a stutter step. 

“It's all about patience when you're running a route like that because you have to wait on the defender to make his move, react off that,” Toney said. “With Coach G working on footwork drills, I feel like he helped me take off to another level, as you guys saw.”

After making just 10 receptions in seven games played last season, few expected Toney to be playing at this level in 2020. Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, however, always knew Toney was a special talent and capable of greatness. 

He just needed time to develop and a clean bill of health. 

“Even heading into last season before he got hurt, I think he was really on his way to developing as a player,” Johnson said of Toney. “What people don’t realize about Kadarius is he’s an extremely intelligent football player. He understands the game and he’s an ultimate competitor. 

“He really works at it, he works at his craft. Coach Gonzales does a great job of helping him develop and really hone his skills in. Once he settled in and got the reps that he needed, it was no surprise that he took off and was one of the best players in America.”

Wednesday

What: Cotton Bowl

Who: Florida (8-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-2)

When: 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850