April 20, 2009

Visit exceeds Toma’s expectations

Roby Toma captured two unofficial titles during his official visit last weekend.

For starters, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound receiver became the latest official visit in Notre Dame recruiting history when he attended the Blue-Gold Game more than two months after signing with the Irish. On top of that, it's hard to imagine any family logging more miles to get to South Bend than Toma and his parents did.

Toma arrived at Notre Dame from Laie, Hawaii on Friday morning. His mother got here the night before from Boston. And Toma's father went the farthest, coming to South Bend from Japan.

"It's a journey," Toma said. "It was awesome. It exceeded all expectations. The weather could not have been better."

That's one area where Toma got an edge on friend Manti Te'o, the five-star linebacker who visited Notre Dame late last season when a snowball fight broke out in the stands. The Irish staff was relieved to not recreate that weather system for the spring game, but the coaches wanted to replicate other aspects of the Te'o visit.

"They were just like how they were when they were recruiting me," Toma said. "They treated my visit like I was still a recruit because I hadn't seen Notre Dame yet, which I appreciated. I really enjoyed the tours and meeting people.

"The visit was awesome for my parents because they could see what kind of things I was going to be going through in my four years at Notre Dame. The trip was about making sure my parents were comfortable. They really wanted to see the campus and a lot of times we lost my mom and dad because they were off wandering around."

Linebacker Anthony McDonald hosted Toma, although the Punahou School standout was probably more interested in mixing with the Irish receivers. The three-star prospect left impressed and motivated to continue his off-season weight training program. The spring game was quiet for the Irish receivers, but their stature said plenty to Toma.

"Those guys are a lot bigger than I am," Toma said. "It's going to take some work. It's all part of the game. I'm just going to need to train harder. I don't want to get over there and not be prepared. I know coach Weis doesn't like it when people aren't prepared."

The receivers weren't the only ones to motivate Toma. He knows it's one thing to beat out some of Notre Dame's established talent for playing time; it's another to get open.

"It's not like high school anymore where you can just run past the corners," Toma said. "Guys like Robert Blanton, they're great and you have to run precise routes to get separation."

What encouraged Toma about the weekend was the mood in the locker room before and after the Blue-Gold Game. He saw players joking with each other, smiling about the spring finale. It reminded Toma of Punahou.

"There's a lot of team chemistry there, which is great," Toma said. "Coach Weis said this is the closest team he's had since he's been coaching at Notre Dame. That's something as a captain of our high school team that me and Manti and Dalton Hilliard (UCLA signee) tried to do, to stay close with our teammates."

Toma will get closer with the Irish roster in two months when he reports for summer school alongside Te'o. That's when the receiver will learn not only how far he's come, but how far he has to go.

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