Toney making dreams a reality

Tevin Toney grew up around football.

His friends played it. So did his cousins and uncles. It was only natural that he try and follow in their footsteps.

"It all started when I was about 8 years old," Toney said, who's now a defensive end at Bethune-Cookman University. "That's when I started playing youth football and basketball at the YMCA. I played for about four or five years, then moved onto middle school, and kept playing right through high school."

Despite excelling on both the hardwood and the gridiron, Toney had to make a difficult choice at Sebring High: football or basketball.

"I had a love for both sports, but football is so close to my heart," Toney said. "And I thought, 'I could really do something with this,' and I stuck with it."

The decision paid off.

After many arduous hours that included staying behind for extra practice on the football field, as well as in the classroom, Toney earned a scholarship to play for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. His indomitable work ethic is still legendary around town.

"He just worked harder than anybody else," said current Sebring football coach LaVaar Scott, who was Toney's defensive line coach when he played for the Blue Streaks.

Scott is also Toney's cousin, and he said that seeing Toney reach the college ranks was doubly special, since he watched Toney grow as both a player and a person.

"It feels really good to see him come so far," Scott said. "Since he was young, I was always pushing him. He really turned into a great leader for his teammates and is strong academically. I'm happy to see none of that hard work went to waste."

Driven at home by the men in his family to excel on the field, the women in Toney's circle pushed him just as hard in the classroom.

"Basically they told me, 'being a student comes first,'" Toney said. "Our family in Sebring has such a good reputation with doing both - sports and academics - so I just wanted to keep up that tradition of being a great athlete and a great student."

But they get their fill of football action, too.

"My grandma is a football fanatic," Toney said. "And my mom has been great about coming out to support me in college - she's the loudest fan in the stadium. My family and my community is what really kept me humble and hungry."

"I just want to go out and perform well for my home town. I hope to represent them well so other colleges will come and take a look at their players."

Now a defensive captain in his senior year at Bethune-Cookman, Toney has been integral in orchestrating a turnaround for the school's football team.

Once a fledgling program, Toney's addition to the roster helped the Wildcats to a four-game improvement in his freshman year, as Bethune-Cookman went from 5-6 to 9-2.

Since his sophomore year to today, he's helped the Wildcats to an overall record of 26-8, and they're on the cusp of another Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference Championship.

"Coach (Brian) Jenkins has really built a good program here," Toney said. "We're all about leading by example and playing as a unit."

All of that improvement hasn't gone unnoticed.

The NFL is keeping a close watch on Toney, but he's adamant that his goal right now is to be the best player and teammate he can be for Bethune-Cookman.

"That would be an amazing dream come true," Toney said. "Making the NFL is something you think about in high school, but you never really consider it a reality. But if anything, it's made me even more focused to go out every day and get better for my team.

Today you can watch Toney in the 34th annual Florida Classic between Bethune-Cookman and the Florida A&M Rattlers. The game will be played in the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Kick off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

"It's such a big game," Toney said. "Playing in it has been a great experience. I really want to make this last year one to remember. And they took six points away from me last year, so I'm looking to get those back."