Sept. 23, 2005
By Andre Bayard
Joe Toledo has finally been transformed.
For four years, Toledo's coaches envisioned the tight end's quick hands, nimble feet and 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame being utilized on the offensive line, stopping opposing defensive tackles in their tracks as Khalif Barnes, Elliot Silvers and Chad Ward had done before.
Each year they debated, and each year they left Toledo where he was, needing his presence at tight end as Barnes and Robin Meadow held down the tackle spot. With the graduation of Barnes to the NFL in April, however, the move was finally made.
And just like that, a star was born.
Barely five months after his first practice at the new position, in April, Toledo has shot up the depth chart with his outstanding play and game awareness, rising all the way to No. 1 at left tackle before suffering an injury in the Huskies' season-opener vs. Air Force. Toledo has impressed coaches so much so that he was placed at left tackle, considered by many the most difficult position on the line due to the tendency of a defense to line up its best pass rusher on the quarterback's back side -- in this case, the right side of the defensive line, immediately opposite Toledo.
While Washington's opponents may be glad to see Toledo out of the lineup, the Huskies' fans and coaches can't wait to see him back on the field. They're not the only ones, though -- NFL scouts will certainly be in attendance for Toledo's return. While even the nation's best tight ends typically merit second- or third-round NFL selections, talented offensive tackles almost always go in the top half of the first round.
"My coaches have all told me that it is going to help me out in the future, as far as playing at the next level," Toledo says.
Playing in the NFL, though, is far from the senior's primary goal. A three-year letterwinner, the Encinitas, Calif., native has less than one full season remaining to help turn the Husky program he loves back in the right direction.
"I just want to help the team in any way I can," says Toledo. "Being a senior on the team and having to change positions, if it will help the team win then that's what I want to do. So far, it seems like it's been a good move."
The move did take Toledo out of the spotlight -- but at least this time, it was for a good reason. The Encinitas, Calif., native rocketed to stardom at La Costa Canyon High School, making 75 career receptions for nearly 1,800 yards and 19 TDs, including 11 touchdowns as a senior. Recruited by many schools as an offensive lineman, Toledo chose instead to come to Washington and continue the Huskies' outstanding tight end tradition, which saw eight different UW tight ends reach the NFL from 1990-2002.
After falling out of the spotlight as a freshman due to a broken foot, Toledo snatched it back in 2002 by starting five times, and earning the team's Most Outstanding Freshman award. Limited again by injury in 2003, Toledo returned with a vengeance last season, grabbing a career-high 19 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a 24-yarder from Isaiah Stanback against Oregon State.
Back in the spotlight again, it appeared that Toledo was on his way to becoming the ninth UW tight end since 1990 to reach the NFL. But while he may have been asked to take another step back from prominence, it has only enhanced his future prospects. The big catches and touchdowns make the nightly highlight reels, but it's the steady blocks and toughness in the trenches that can often determine the outcome of games. Having been a skill player himself, Toledo understands the value of the offensive line.
"It is fine not having as much attention as I used to have," he says. "In order for us to have a good team, we are going to have to have a good offensive line. If we win games, and are able to get the running backs going, and to protect the quarterback, then that is all the attention we need -- and all the attention I need."
What is attention-worthy is the transformation that Toledo underwent during the 2005 offseason, adding 30 pounds in the weight room to reach a playing weight of 315 pounds this season. Toledo says that due to needing speed and agility at the tight end position he has always had to curb a desire to lift heavier weights and add strength; thus, moving up to 315 has been a natural transformation.
"I feel more comfortable at this position," he says. "At tight end, I always had to watch out on how much I lifted, and when and how much I ate. As an offensive tackle I've been able to get a lot stronger, and I am not tired or fatigued from not eating. It feels a lot better."
Should Toledo, in fact, make the NFL, he will likely be required to transform again, into a lineman capable of stopping the world's most talented defensive players, slowing them down to protect the million-dollar men playing behind him.
That shouldn't be a problem for Toledo -- he's a transformer already.