Despite serving mostly as a reserve the last few years Robby Toma has been able to draw on experience in recent weeks.
Last season Toma stepped into the rotation at wide receiver thanks in part to injuries suffered by Theo Riddick and TJ Jones at various points. Two weeks ago against Maryland Toma did the same as Riddick sat out with a hamstring problem.
Turns out that not long after Riddick realized he wouldn’t be able to play Toma received some words of encouragement before stepping into the starting slot receiver role.
“When Theo got hurt and he found out he came straight to me and told me it was my time,” Toma said. “Just like last year when he went down I knew I had to step up. I feel like I’m in a very similar situation. It’s my time to help out the team.”
So far Toma has done just that.
In the 45-21 route of Maryland a couple weeks ago the junior managed seven receptions for 73 yards. Last week against Boston College he was second only to Michael Floyd with 65 yards on five catches in a 16-14 win.
“I think he understands our offense pretty well,” quarterback Tommy Rees said. “I think he’s just getting more game experience, can find out ways teams are playing. He gets into zones pretty well. He’s just got a great feel for it out there. He’s sure-handed and tough and can be explosive with the ball in his hands. I anticipate him just keeping progressing and getting better.”
Toma isn’t the type to reflect on his recent success but there is a certain sense of gratification that when called upon, as he has been no matter his spot on the depth chart, he is capable of delivering whatever the coaching staff needs.
“I feel like I’ve worked really hard ever since I’ve been here,” Toma said. “I think the coaches notice that. That’s the main thing, just working hard and getting myself prepared and when it’s my opportunity I need to take full advantage of it.”
Just how much Notre Dame will need out of Toma this week against Stanford remains to be seen as Riddick continues to try and rehab his hamstring.
Head coach Brian Kelly has floated the idea of Riddick getting a look at running back once healthy since Jonas Gray went down with a season ending knee injury. Perhaps that is a tacit vote of confidence in Toma since he has again transitioned well into a starting role.
Certainly it seems Rees wouldn’t mind having Toma available on a consistent basis.
“He’s a guy that you’re often on the same page because he kind of think the way a quarterback would,” Rees said. “He thinks where to get open and where defenders’ leverage is. He’s definitely a great weapon to have out there.”
For his part, Toma will take whatever playing time he can get.
“Football is a game I love,” he said. “When you’re not playing it’s not as fun but just to get out there and show what I can do and just to compete with my teammates is something that I really love.”