Aug. 21, 2005
SEATTLE - Every year on a college football team, several players changes positions. Whether it's as subtle as moving from free safety to strong safety, or more broad, like switching from quarterback to receiver, coaches frequently ask players to make a move that will hopefully help out the individual as well as the team.
This season, perhaps the most visible position change on the Husky roster is that of senior Joe Toledo, who has moved from tight end to left tackle. It's not that big of a change in some ways, but for a senior who could possibly be counted on to start at such a crucial position, it's a major difference.
When Toledo reported as a freshman tight end back in 2001, he was listed at 6-foot-5 and 287 pounds, giant for a tight end, especially one so young. Even then, there were whispers that he might be moved to the offensive line.
"Back then, I had been getting recruited by a lot of schools as an offensive lineman," Toledo recalls, "but I wasn't ready to drop the receiver gloves yet. I played wide receiver in high school so that was always a part of the game for me."
So, Toledo remained at tight end, starting five times as a redshirt freshman in 2003, missing most of 2004 due to injury and then starting nine of 11 last year. However, even before the end of last season, there was talk that the seemingly inevitable move to tackle was on its way.
"Before the previous coaching staff left, they told me that tackle might be a better position for me," says Toledo, "because of my size and because nowadays tight ends are a little bit faster. They don't block quite as much. Then, Coach Willingham came in, sat me down and told me it was up to me if I wanted to make a change. I figured if it would help the team, I might as well do it.
"When spring rolled around and I started out with it. At first it was a little bit awkward, but with more and more practice, I think I'm getting it down," he continues. "Hopefully, as fall camp continues, I'll get it down to where it's second nature."
Aside from the benefit to the team, there are plenty of observers who would tell you that with his athleticism, quickness and speed (not to mention size), Toledo may have improved his prospects for making it in the pro football ranks.
"That's what everybody's been telling me," Toledo admits, "but for right now, as an offensive line, we just want to pave the way to us having a winning season and get Husky football back where it needs to be."
Toledo says he's sought advice from all over, including the Huskies' starter at left tackle the previous four seasons, Khalif Barnes (now with the Jacksonville Jaguars), as well as current linemate Robin Meadow, new line coach Mike Denbrock and former UW center and current grad assistant coach Kyle Benn.
"I try to pick up little pointers here and there," he says. "Everything I can pick up right now will be to my benefit."
With his new position has come additional size. Already a good-sized player, Toledo has taken advantage of the switch to put on more weight.
"I've put on about 25 pounds," he says. "It's all good weight, though. My bench press has gone up about a hundred pounds. I've gotten a lot stronger. It think that's really helped me out in the transition. I've tried to keep my speed and quickness. I've worked hard on that.
"It was harder for me to get down in weight," Toledo continues. "I feel comfortable with the weight that I'm at right now. It's not like I've had to be careful in the weight room with how much I'm lifting because I don't want to get too big. And now I don't have to be as careful about much I eat. Now I can just do what I need to do to get ready for practices and games."
The Huskies continue their preparations for the season opener Sept. 3 vs. Air Force at Qwest Field, a date that is now less than two weeks away. Saturday, Coach Tyrone Willingham gave his team a surprise afternoon off, calling off a scheduled practice. The team will return to the practice field tomorrow with two full-squad sessions.