Clich�s are thrown around a lot in the game of football, but ask anyone within the Wisconsin football program and you’ll likely get the same answer: The sky is the limit for wide receiver Nick Toon.
The sophomore from Middleton has shown such potential since stepping on campus in summer 2007 before redshirting his first year with the team.
After earning first-team all-state honors as a senior at Middleton High School, Toon chose to stay close to home, following in his father Al’s footsteps, rather than going to Michigan, one of Toon’s top out-of-state options.
“It makes me feel a little bit more at home,” Toon said. “One of the reasons I stayed here was so I could be close to my family.”
Toon’s decision was a big one for Wisconsin, as the 6-foot-3 receiver has taken over the starting role in just his second season with the team and has developed into a big play threat for the Badgers.
As a starter, Toon knows his role is more than just catching passes. He knows he must provide an example for the rest of the receiver corps, even if he isn’t the oldest or most experienced Badger at his position.
According to fellow wide receiver Isaac Anderson, Toon has stepped up to the challenge.
“He’s definitely stepped into a leadership role,” Anderson said. “Nick has done a lot of things for the receivers and the offense. He understands his position as a starter, as I do as well. We just try to lead the other guys and bring energy to the offense.”
Through nine games, Toon has caught 37 passes this season for 535 yards. He also has added a pair of touchdowns, but arguably, the best reception of his career came Saturday at Indiana.
With 2:35 remaining and Wisconsin facing a third-and-eight at their own 32-yard line, Toon pulled in a 17-yard pass from quarterback Scott Tolzien, which extended the Badgers’ drive and allowed UW to run the clock to zero over the final five plays.
“Big time throw, big time catch, big time call,” head coach Bret Bielema said after the game.
“We didn’t have to throw there, but we wanted to keep the defense on their heels,” Tolzien added. “It was definitely big time for Nick to come up with the play there.”
According to Toon, he had seen the potential in that play long before it was called.
“I was trying to get them to call that play the whole game,” Toon said. “I was happy they finally called it, and I was hoping I could score on it. I didn’t get that done, but hopefully I can get that done here in the near future.”
Toon finished with five catches for 123 yards but did not find the end zone against the Hoosiers. While the performance may have been a surprise to some, it is something he has been building up to since his redshirt season.
According to wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander, one of Toon’s biggest assets is his willingness and interest in learning more about the game.
“He’s been a good student trying to figure out what it takes to be a good player,” Alexander said. “First you want to be a student, but you also want to be a hard worker, and he’s shown that he is. He had a really good offseason, he got stronger and he worked on his speed in the offseason, and now he’s reaping the benefits of that.”
Alexander’s assessment of Toon’s hard work echoes that of strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, who works with the players in the offseason. According to Herbert, the sophomore receiver was one of the top five players in terms of summer workouts, along with Anderson.
Of course, the Wisconsin coaches are not Toon’s only source of knowledge. With his father being a former UW and New York Jets wide receiver, Toon’s route to his current position as the Badgers’ wide receiver is almost like destiny.
According to Toon, his father has helped him “quite a bit” in the development of his ability as a wide receiver, even though he says they do not talk that much about football.
“Obviously, in my opinion, he’s probably one of the best receivers to play the game,” Toon said. “He knows a lot about the position and a lot about what I’m going through and what I do and he went through it. He knows more about it than anybody I’ve met up to this point.
“He just shares his knowledge with me,” Toon continued. “And he tries to make sure I’m doing everything right.”
While the sky may be the limit, Toon remains grounded, understanding much of his success begins up front with the offensive line. He also credits his numbers to the strong efforts of Tolzien behind center.
He does, however, still have at least one goal for himself.
“One of my biggest goals is to be better than my dad,” Toon said. “I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but that’s one of the goals.”