From here on out, Kadarius Toney is not to be compared to Percy Harvin.
From here on out, Kadarius Toney is in a class of his own and deserving of his own categorization.
And from here on out, if we see a Florida Gator with jaw dropping shiftiness and elusiveness, the question, “do you know who they look like” shall be followed with the choices of both Harvin and Toney.
It’s human nature to compare; to provide ourselves some sort of reference for an uncommon sight. And Percy Harvin did set the standard during his time with the Florida Gators. When Head Coach Dan Mullen first arrived in Gainesville, he informed fans on his speaking tour they would likely be using the young Toney in the same way Harvin was used when Mullen was offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer.
“Very similar to a Percy Harvin,” Mullen said at the time, “… [Harvin] played a lot of high school quarterback, came to Florida and ended up being a pretty good everything. If you know the offense we run, we’re going to use Kadarius in a lot of different ways similar to how we used Percy.”
And Toney, understanding what Harvin’s name means in the echelon of college football, responded with appreciation.
“It's kind of an honor, really, just to know what Percy did in the past and implementing that into today's game,” Toney told reporters after Florida’s win over Mississippi State in 2018.
Still, Kadarius Toney came to Florida to chart his own path. Two years ago, he posted a picture on his Instagram page with a simple caption:
Not Percy Harvin
Now as Kadarius Toney prepares to close out his Gators career, he can leave Gainesville knowing he’s charted his own path, made his own name and leaves his own legacy.
“I think when you look at the reasons for comparison are the playmaking abilities,” explained Mullen earlier this week, while previewing the No. 7 Gators upcoming Cotton Bowl game with the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners.
“He’s a guy that when the ball is in his hands, special things happen. And you know, Percy, when you put the ball in his hands, special things happen. Kadarius, put the ball in his hands and special things happen. You know, it just so happens they played, their careers ended up rolling out, they played in a similar offense. I want to say we've evolved through the years so we're a little bit different than we were back then, but a very similar offense, so you can see the similarity in styles. But, KT is KT.”
Already the most versatile player on the Gators roster, Toney elected to return for his senior year (2020) and chase a championship while also refining his game for the NFL. He always had innate talent and skill that couldn’t be taught. But coaches had long hinted that the reason Toney didn’t receive as many touches his 2018 and 2019 season was because the trust hadn’t been fully built. They never knew in any given moment what he would do; for that matter they still don’t know, but they needed to at least trust something bad wouldn’t happen. For Toney to put together better tape for the NFL, he needed to show league scouts and coaches as well he could be trusted.
So that’s what he worked on this offseason.
“I feel like I made a lot of strides through learning and practicing from Coach Billy Gonzales, just running different routes, different patterns, different ways to get open. I feel like I got more into that,” explained Toney following the Gators matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship.
“Just a lot of mental preparation. Through the break, it was mental, locking in on the playbook, locking in with the coaches, getting extra maybe film sessions or something like that. I guess you could say it became natural through teaching…I learned that along with my mind, as long as I'm focused in other words, I feel like I can do anything.”
Anything just about sums it up. Toney finished the regular season and SEC Championship with 1,451 all-purpose yards: 984 receiving, 161 rushing, 12 passing, 139 punt return yardage and 155 in kickoff returns, along with 12 touchdowns. And of course still made video game like plays as he went.
“The one run I will never forget about K.T. is South Carolina, when he bounced back and forth between all those players and scored. I don't know how he even did that,” admitted receiver Justin Shorter this week.
The human joystick had his most productive season yet largely because he learned not how to play receiver in spite of his elusive natural talent, but instead alongside it. That always seemed to be the biggest disconnect in Kadarius Toney’s game; the knowledge that he could be both precise and unpredictable, sharp while running loose like Gumby, fast and patient.
It’s an evolvement that turned the most exciting player on the roster into one of the most dangerous weapons in the country, to the point he's been chosen as one of five finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, the Louisville Sports Commission announced on Wednesday.
The Paul Hornung Award is given annually by the Louisville Sports Commission to the most versatile player in major college football. Fans can vote for Toney here.
And with the evolvement came the trust for Dan Mullen to turn Kadarius Toney loose.
“He’s always been such a dynamic playmaker,” described Mullen.
"You put the ball in his hands and exciting things happen. But if you watch what he’s been able to do, his ability to understand the routes, be a great route-runner. He understands he has freedom within a lot of different routes at that position.
“We give that position a little bit more freedom even than other positions within the route running, and he understands though the freedom that he has and doesn’t just freelance it, but he understands the defensive coverages and the looks that he has, and he has a great feeling of how to attack those different coverages and looks, and how to win versus the different coverage people are playing against him.”
It’s rare for a player of Toney’s promise and magnitude to leave the state of Alabama. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban rarely loses an Alabama native that he wants. But he couldn’t hold on to the Mobile native Kadarius Toney despite his best efforts and while preparing for the SEC Championship last week, Saban had to give credit to the electric Toney.
“He was an outstanding high school player. His quickness and ability to run jerk routes and change direction, get in and out of breaks, is fantastic. I just think he's a really complete player as a receiver, especially when he's in the slot. He's a difficult matchup, creates a lot of problems. We'd love to have him here, I can tell you that.”
Toney finished with 153 receiving yards (his fourth 100+ yard game of the season) and a total of 211 all-purpose yards in the game versus the Tide.
Through an all-SEC season, Toney helped create the nation’s No. 1 passing offense (the Gators average 388.4 yards a game through the air, the best mark in the country) and a potent attack that even baffles the man pulling the trigger, quarterback Kyle Trask.
“If you look at the big picture, you just think of explosiveness. The amount of explosive plays we had this whole season, with all the guys that you named, it's unreal. I can't even imagine what it's like being a defense and you turn on the tape, we're winning all of our one-on-one matchups, making plays.”
The trio of Kadarius Toney, tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Tre Grimes was in fact explosive this season, to the point that the three gave the Gators the only trio in the country to have at least nine touchdowns and 500 plus yards, each. They set a new precedent together and each deserve recognition in their own right.
And Kadarius Toney? As he prepares to close out his Florida Gators career, he deserves his own recognition, his own due and his own legacy. He’s earned that right.