Rebel Cardinal: Former Roncalli Stand Out Lands in the NFL
When former Greenwood resident Cole Toner was a child, playing Bantam league football, his parents saw a large athletic child. They saw a child who wasn’t allowed to carry the ball because he was too big. They saw a gentle and kind boy. They still see that boy, but they also see a player in the National Football League, chosen by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2016 National Football League draft.
Playing football as a child, Cole was one of the biggest kids in the league. In fact, he was so big that he wasn’t permitted to carry the ball, so he was an offensive lineman … and he was a punter … and a field goal kicker.
Despite his size, however, he was always a kind boy. According to his father, Dave Toner, “He’s always had a gentle nature. He was never a bully. People would call him a ‘Gentle Giant.’”
Now the Gentle Giant is close to 6’6” tall and weighs more than 300 pounds. He can probably credit genetics for his size as Dave is 6’5” tall and his mom, Angie, is 5’11”. Both are athletes. Dave played football for Butler University, and Angie was a three-sport athlete in high school.
They currently reside on the southside of Indianapolis but recently moved from Greenwood where they spent the first 25 years of their married life. Cole is their only child, though Dave has two older children. Dave recently retired from Roncalli High School after spending the past 16 years as athletic director. Angie still works at Roncalli, teaching geometry, pre-calculus and probability and statistics. The two met while working at Roncalli.
Roncalli is where Cole’s football career began to take off, playing both offense and defense for the Rebels.
“As a senior, he was dominant,” Dave said. “But even when he was selected for the All-Star game, there were still no thoughts of the NFL.”
Instead, their thoughts were on college. While Cole received no offers from Big Ten schools, he started hearing from Ivy League schools. That may have had something to do with his impressive high school academic career, which included a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT.
This led him to Harvard College (undergraduate program within Harvard University) where he played football for the Crimson all four years. It was only when Cole realized he could hold his own against players who eventually went to the NFL that he began to see a possible future playing professionally.
For Dave and Angie, however, the NFL still wasn’t on their radar.
“My goal (for Harvard) was that he would have a chance to play, and the team would be successful,” Dave said. “I wanted him to feel the same camaraderie at Harvard that he felt at Roncalli, and I think he felt that.”
The Crimson were very successful during Cole’s four years, going 36-4, and winning three Ivy League championships.
Academically, Cole also thrived at Harvard. According to his parents, Cole said he was better prepared for Harvard after attending Roncalli than any of his friends on campus. In addition to football and academics, he also spent two summers in Boston working as an intern for State Street, a financial services company. Cole graduated from Harvard in May of this year with a degree in Government and Economics.
Cole became a professional football player the last Saturday in April when the Arizona Cardinals drafted him. Dave and Angie had flown to Harvard to be with him along with high school friends David Heckman and Brad Fey. They were watching the proceedings on TV and getting antsy when the phone finally rang, and Arizona Head Coach Bruce Arians was on the other end. “Are you going to work hard for me?” he asked. “Do you want to be a Cardinal?”
Cole replied, “Absolutely.”
“Then hang up the phone and watch yourself be drafted,” Arians said.
Cole Toner was drafted 170th in the fifth round.
“We all just screamed,” Angie said. “If it couldn’t be the Indianapolis Colts, this was the second best team for all of us. Dave has two sisters in Arizona. There is tons of family there. He’s going to be with family. We taped (the draft) and watched it about 30 times. It’s still like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s surreal.”
“Now we’re in a position where his fallback position is his Harvard degree,” Dave laughed.
Cole did not play the first two games of the 2016 season, nor did he dress, but watching from the sidelines, Angie said Cole is not intimidated by what he sees. “He’ll be ready. But he’s young … he’s just a little kid. He’s got to get bigger and stronger, and he knows that. It’s his full-time job now.”
Far from being “only” a football player, Cole grew up like most kids his age. He had close friends, succeeded academically and played the drums in bands, both in high school and in college, winning musical competitions along the way.
“We wanted him to enjoy all things,” Angie said. “He loves sports. It’s not like we forced sports upon him. He enjoyed playing from a little kid on, but we wanted Cole to play as many things as he wanted to that he felt like he enjoyed.”
That includes not only football, but also basketball and baseball. Angie and Dave both credit his being a multiple-sport athlete with much of the success Cole has seen in his football career.
“Playing multiple sports helped him,” Angie said. “Cole will tell you that basketball helped him with his footwork in football. It made him have quicker feet.”
According to Dave, Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said one of the positive things about recruiting Cole was that he was a basketball player. “They like multiple-sport athletes because they are just better athletes.”
It’s been hard work for Cole to get this far, but he’s had plenty of help along the way.
“(Cole) was the beneficiary of great coaches,” Dave said. “These are coaches who are doing it for the right reason instead of doing it for their own child or even themselves. I’m glad he was exposed to some really quality people. He’s been the beneficiary of a lot of good situations. But in every situation he’s been put in, he’s succeeded because he’s taken advantage of it as opposed to messing around. He’s done well with all his opportunities.”
“We feel very fortunate that all things have happened like this for him,” Angie continued. “My son is living out his dream … whether it was a dream when he was a sophomore in college or when he was 10 years old watching Peyton Manning play football. He’s living his dream.”
Now years past that Bantam league gridiron where he wasn’t allowed to carry the ball because he was so big, Dave and Angie still see the same boy they did so many years ago.
“He hasn’t changed at all,” Dave said.
“He’s a humble young man,” Angie said. “He has strong Christian values. When people congratulate us, they say ‘I’m so happy for Cole. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid.’ That, to me, is the neatest thing. People are glad for him as opposed to jealous. It makes me feel good. The other stuff? The accolades? That’s just icing on the cake. He’s a good boy. He’s a good young man.”