Toner and special teams leave their marks on Stanford football

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By Ana Kieu

Stanford senior kicker Jet Toner possesses arguably the coolest name in college football. He’s clutch, too.

The youngest of six children, Toner was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and his birth name is John Edward Toner V. At the hospital, a doctor mentioned his initials spelled Jet and he has been called that ever since.

“I didn’t know John was my first name until I was in elementary school,” said Toner, who was named after his grandfather.

At Stanford, when professors call attendance, they say John.

“Honestly, I still forget it’s my real name,” Toner said.

There is no denying Toner has Aloha spirit in his blood. After drilling a 39-yard field goal with one second remaining last Saturday night at Oregon State to lift Stanford to a much-needed 31-28 win, he showed no emotion.

“Just doing my job,” Toner said.

According to special teams coordinator Pete Alamar, Toner’s demeanor never changes.

“I think Jet would be that way if he grew up Albuquerque,” Alamar said. “His happy to unhappy range — if the scale is three feet wide — is right in the middle. There’s about a one-inch variance to where he goes.”

It’s not that Toner isn’t competitive. After attending a Stanford kicking camp prior to his senior year at Punahou High School, he initially didn’t receive a scholarship offer and considered attending UCLA.

“He didn’t leave a happy guy, but I told him to be patient,” said Alamar. “When push came to shove, we felt he was the best guy on the board, period. It’s proved itself to be true.”

Toner never wanted to be anywhere else.

“It was always my dream school,” Toner said.

Toner’s family is tight with Joe Torre, the only Major League player/manager to collect 2,000 hits (2,342) and 2,000 wins (2,326). The league’s chief baseball officer since 2011, he was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. Toner’s father, John, works in the hotel business.

“Back in Hawaii, you call everyone your uncle,” Jet said. “He’s not my uncle biologically. I think my dad has been really good friends with him since before I was born. For me, he’s been like a relative.”

Two-time All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 All-Academic, Toner set a school record last year with a .933 field goal percentage (14-of-15), No. 2 in the country, and No. 1 in the conference. He converted a game-tying 32-yard field goal as time expired at Oregon, enabling Stanford to complete a come-from-behind 38-31 overtime victory.

Toner is on the Lou Groza Award Watch list for the second consecutive year.

“He kind of has that island vibe in him,” said junior offensive tackle Foster Sarell. “He never makes a situation bigger than it is.”

Special all-around
Stanford’s special team units made huge contributions against Oregon State, including a blocked field goal by senior cornerback Obi Eboh. They’ll need to be equally effective Saturday, when the Cardinal (2-3, 1-3 Pac-12) hosts No. 15 Washington (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) at 7:30 p.m.

“For four years, he’s practiced that block,” Alamar said. “It’s not called often, but we practice it every Tuesday. To have the opportunity to go out and execute it and execute it well and get a block … it made a difference in the game.”

Junior wide receiver Connor Wedington set up Toner’s game-winner with a 43-yard kickoff return, sophomore wide receiver Michael Wilson contributed with a 27-yard punt return, while freshman punter Ryan Sanborn pinned the Beavers with two kicks inside the 20. All in all, the coverage teams sparkled.

“The thing we hang our hat on is trying to create field position for the offense and the defense, and score points,” said Alamar. “We never know what play is going to be a turning point in the game, so we play every play like that is going to be the play that turns the game.”

Alamar had special praise for freshman safety Jonathan McGill, who has started the last two games on defense.

“He’s done a phenomenal job on kickoff,” Alamar said. “So have (freshman safety) Brock Jones, (sophomore outside linebacker) Tobe Umerah and a lot of our younger guys.”

Injury update
After Wednesday night’s practice, David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, said senior quarterback K.J. Costello would miss his second consecutive game due to injury.

“We backed off today,” Shaw said.

Junior Davis Mills played well in his second career start against Oregon State, passing for a career-high 245 yards, three touchdowns and caught another from junior tight end Colby Parkinson.

“He’s made great progress since USC and he’s got more progress to make,” said Shaw.

Senior offensive tackle Devery Hamilton and sophomore cornerback Ethan Bonner are also out, while senior offensive guard Dylan Powell is likely sidelined for the season.

Junior strong safety Stuart Head received his first playing time of the season against Oregon State and should be available, while senior cornerback Treyjohn Butler is questionable.

Quick learners: Shaw was impressed by the play of freshmen Walter Rouse and Barrett Miller against Oregon State.

“I completely forgot that we had a freshman left tackle and freshman left guard,” said Shaw. “They’re bright kids, they’re competitive kids, and they want to do everything right.”

According to Shaw, Rouse made two mistakes while appearing in all 68 offensive snaps.

“That’s remarkable,” Shaw said. “Every time I compliment him, he says, ‘Really?’ Like most people who are successful, he’s not satisfied with being pretty good. He wants to be great. I appreciate that about him. Unbelievably conscientious, hardworking young man and he has a chance to be special.”

Washington ties
Stanford has five Washington products on its roster: sixth-year wide receiver Isaiah Brandt-Sims, junior wide receiver Cameron Buzzell, sophomore defensive end Trey LaBounty, junior offensive tackle Sarell, and junior wide receiver Wedington.

“I’m really excited to get on the field and see if any of the emotion gets me,” said Sarell, who missed last year’s game in Seattle due to injury.

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Home crowd
Saturday marks Stanford’s first game with the full student body back on campus. Stanford hosted Oregon two weeks ago during new student orientation, but the Red Zone Student Section should be packed for Washington and the Cardinal looks forward to their support.

“We love that,” said senior inside linebacker Curtis Robinson. “Any support we can get is appreciated, especially the students, the individuals that we interact with every day in classes or dorms. It’s really nice to have them out there and be able to play in front of them.”

Said Shaw, “When we can get that stadium full, it’s an electric environment. It’s exciting, especially now being in school for a while. Just your friendships and you know people that are coming to watch you, especially for some of the younger guys. The freshman dorms come out to support all of the athletes in their sports, so you see the signs in the student section. They bring an energy and passion and it becomes personal.”

Scouting the Huskies
“Their offensive line plays together very well,” said Robinson. “They’re a big, seasoned group and that helps them open up holes. Their running backs are super-talented and know what to do with the ball once they see openings. If those seams are open, they’re going to take them.”

Defensively, Washington is active and physical.

“They’ve got quickness, athleticism and explosiveness up front,” said Shaw. “They get a lot of penetration and a lot of hits on the quarterback with a three- or four-man rush. It’s not about pressure with those guys, it’s about how active they are.”

Shaw on the keys to a win Saturday
“For us, it’s about playing at the level we can play at and sustaining it, which has been our challenge all year. In spurts, we’ve been outstanding; in spurts we haven’t. We have to make the plays that are there to be made and we can’t make critical mistakes. At the very least, we have to match their intensity and physicality, and you can’t start slow. If you start slowly against Washington, you’ll be down 21-0.”

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Smooth transition
Senior Curtis Robinson said it has been an adjustment this season moving from outside to inside linebacker.

“The biggest shift for me was eye progression,” Shaw said. “Playing on the line, you don’t have to see as much. Playing inside, we call it ‘apexing’ our vision. Looking to a certain point but seeing three different people moving different directions. That’s what I have been working on the most.”

Through five games, 13 players have made their first starts at Stanford, including five freshmen. 13 freshmen have seen game action … Wedington ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 11 nationally in kickoff return average at 30.4 yards … Junior wide receiver Osiris St. Brown has started the last two games and has 12 receptions for 144 yards … The Cardinal roster includes players from 28 states and Austria, and 17 different majors are being taken. Engineering is the most popular with 16.

“We don’t really look at it as having to shoulder the load. We just see it as an opportunity to make an impact on the game.” — Robinson on the extended minutes he and senior inside linebacker Andrew Pryts have played.

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