Former Notre Dame wide receiver Toma chases NFL dream

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It isn't necessarily a question of if Robby Toma will be a good fit as wide receivers coach at Punahou School in Honolulu, his high school alma mater.

The former Notre Dame wide receiver wouldn’t mind having to wonder when as he chases his professional dreams.

Toma starred at Punahou, earning Hawaii co-offensive player of the year honors his senior year. He carved a niche for himself at Notre Dame, a guy who could be counted on to run precise routes and catch balls thrown in his area.

He wasn't the biggest guy on the team, but he was one whose work ethic earned him a role as a leader among the receivers.

So yes, the job offer that Toma has to coach receivers at his high school alma mater is attractive. But it's one that Toma wouldn't mind hitting the pause button on.

Toma, who last played for the Irish in 2012, was a late cut by the Arizona Cardinals during 2013 training camp, but his professional dream didn't die that day. Toma was one of 16 former Notre Dame players taking part in the school's pro day Thursday at Loftus Center.

"I thought I did my best. I'm going to leave it in God's hands and just hope and pray that it works out, but if it doesn't I've got a good opportunity back home," Toma said after showing plus-speed and plus-plus hands as he caught passes from former Irish quarterback Tommy Rees, another ND player who was trying to impress scouts." I'm happy either way it goes."

Toma, who caught 60 passes for 667 yards during his college career, had an impressive camp for the Cardinals, but on the day camp broke, as the players were leaving their hotel, Toma got the news.

That's been the extent of his NFL experience.

"After I got cut from Arizona I thought I was going to get a call or something from the CFL," Toma said, "but it's been pretty quiet."

He's working to make noise. Toma, who was listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds his senior year at ND, worked out in Hawaii during the offseason every day with former Punahou and ND teammate Manti Te'o, now a member of the San Diego Chargers. The two would drive 30 minutes each way to train with a pair of former NFL players who opened a gym in January.

Prior to that, Toma was approached by Rees to see if he could throw to him.

"I just wanted to come out here and be on the same page as Tommy as we've always been and really complete balls and run a good 40," Toma said. "I think I did, I don't know my time but I felt good."

He looked good, using the experience he gained from going through last year's ND pro day to help shake the nervousness that can plague former college players going through what is essentially a job interview.

"I was more at ease," he said. "I went through NFL training camp and obviously there's pressure every day there and there's also a lot of pressure here, all four years at Notre Dame so I wasn't too nervous."

Nor did he look it. He seemed to catch everything he could get his hands on, and describing what he didn't catch is easier than what he did. Toma beat himself up about a ball thrown toward the sideline that was far out of his reach, but a ball he still got his hand on.

"I should have had it. I wasn't too happy about that," he said. "When you touch it you catch it."

If Toma doesn't catch on with an NFL team, he will at Punahou, and it's there where he will pass on the knowledge he's gained.

"It'll be good to be able to give kids some of the knowledge that I've learned out here, back home," he said. "I'm going to try to do what a lot of older guys did for me."

Tutoring Tommy

Rees never played for new Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, but the first-year assistant served as a mentor of sorts for the NFL hopeful, going so far as to serve as Rees' pseudo-center Thursday during Rees' throwing drills.

"Just another set of eyes and ears who could help me do the best I could today," said Rees, who completed 32 of his 34 passes on Thursday.

Prior to joining the ND staff, LaFleur spent the past four seasons as the QB coach for the Washington Redskins.

"That helps a ton. He's been there. He's done stuff. He knows what people are trying to find," Rees said. "It was good to have him there with me."

Look around

Former Irish inside linebacker Dan Fox noticed the two NFL head coaches — Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and Jacksonville's Gus Bradley — along with three NFL general managers patrolling the Loftus Center turf.

"It was a little weird to look and see NFL coaches sending you through the drills and everything, It was kind of surreal but I was excited to be here," said Fox, who will train in Chicago until the May draft.

He indicated that he's run faster times during his training than he did on Thursday, but he also felt some of the other drills he did on Thursday exceeded what he's been done. That said, the time Fox ran Thursday in the 40 — 4.59 seconds — would have ranked as the third-fastest among linebackers at this year's NFL Combine, to which Fox was not invited.

"It's kind of crazy, you train that whole time and then it's all done in one day," he said. "But I feel really, really good."

Scouting Schwenke

While much of the draft attention has been on former Irish defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, another former member of the defensive line also is pursuing NFL dreams.

Former Irish defensive lineman Kona Schwenke also took part in Thursday's pro day.

"I reached all my goals that I wanted to" Schwenke said, "so I feel like I did really good today."

BWieneke@SBTinfo.com ¦ 574-235-6428 ¦ Twitter: @BobWienekeNDI

Notre Dame's Robby Toma, left, gets pulled out of bounds by Pittsburgh's Jarred Holley during the game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend on Saturday, November 03, 2012. (SBT photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)