February 6, 2009

Signing bonus: Irish add Toma

This was where they were supposed to part ways.

Seated in the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall's Pikake Room on Wednesday morning, Roby Toma prepared to sign his letter of intent with UCLA while friend and teammate Manti Te'o inked with Notre Dame. The five-star linebacker followed through with his plan. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound wide receiver did not.

"I turned around to my parents and told them I couldn't do it," Toma said. "Manti actually thought that I had signed. He came up and wished me good luck at UCLA and said he'll be looking out for me."

But the view will be across campus.
After keeping his pen dry on Wednesday Toma reconsidered his options, one of them being Notre Dame after Charlie Weis offered a scholarship almost one month ago. On Thursday afternoon - a.k.a. evening in South Bend - Toma called the Irish head coach to commit.

Toma said he will fax his signed letter of intent to Notre Dame on Friday morning when he arrives at the Punahou School. The three-star prospect left a message for the UCLA coaching staff on Thursday, a call that had not been returned.

"My family and I did a lot of talking and praying this week," Toma said. "Right after Signing Day, I just told my parents that I needed time to think before I signed anything. I just thought Notre Dame was the place for me. I couldn't get over that."

Toma's first introduction to Notre Dame came during Weis' in-home visit with Te'o in the days following the regular season. Toma sat in on the presentations by Weis and assistant Brian Polian in what turned into a virtual official visit. Toma has never been to Notre Dame and plans to see campus during spring practice.

The receiver relied on advice from Te'o and his parents, all three of which had seen campus up close. Toma said he's not worried about signing with Notre Dame without seeing the school firsthand.

"After his visit Manti told me how the players were one big family," Toma said. "It's the same for the coaching staff. Their fan base is as good as it gets. Even when things are down, the fans still support the team."

Toma also spoke with Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen to get a player's take on an issue that can creep onto the list of many West Coast (and beyond) prospects.

"The main question for Jimmy was how it was with the weather," Toma said. "He said it's fine. It's not going to make a difference. I trusted him. I just felt that I would be a good fit there."

Toma's junior season was spent in the slot for Punahou before he split wider and developed into an all-around threat this season. As a senior, Toma posted 82 catches for 1,380 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also returned an interception for a score and played in the inaugural Hawaii Prep Classic.

"The Notre Dame coaches all told me I had good ball skills, caught the ball well with my hands and am able to make people miss," Toma said. "They lost a slot receiver this year and a recruit left for Tennessee so a slot opened up."

And Toma filled it, extending his connection with Te'o for another few years. The two started playing football together in Pop Warner and the families are close enough that Toma referred to Te'o's parents as uncle and aunt.

A time will come when Toma and Te'o part ways, likely when the linebacker heads off campus for a two-year mission in accordance with his Mormon faith. Toma figures to have settled into the Irish program by then. He added that Punahou will send five other students to Notre Dame next year.

"Throughout the process Manti and I both said we were going to do what's best for us," Toma said. "Before Signing Day I told Manti that this might be where we have to split up and good luck with his decision. But it's going to be great playing with him again."

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