Archive for Monday, December 22, 2003

Been there, done that

Former Sooner Toomey only Jayhawk with bowl experience

December 22, 2003


— Gabriel Toomey's second bowl trip will be a lot different from his first.

Kansas University's sophomore linebacker actually will play today when KU (6-6) meets North Carolina State (7-5) in the Tangerine Bowl at Orlando, Fla.

"You go down there with totally different mental plan," said Toomey, who took a red-shirt season as a freshman at Oklahoma in 2001 when the Sooners played in the Cotton Bowl. "You have to stay focused ... I'm going to be studying a lot of film and getting after the defense. I know we're going to meet a lot. It's a totally different mental edge going down there."

Toomey is KU's second-leading tackler and the emotional leader of the Jayhawk defense, but not nearly as much was expected of him on the trip to Texas two years ago.

"It was a good time," said Toomey, who transferred to Iowa Central Community College after his year in Norman, Okla. "It was pretty cold. It was 20 degrees in Dallas. We had heaters, and all the redshirts huddled up around that all day.

"It was fun to be a redshirt down there. We went down there and had a good time."

The only drawback to the New Year's Day bowl was OU's 10 p.m. curfew on New Year's Eve.

"A lot of work was put in, but basically you're going down there to win," Toomey said. "That's the most fun part of it. You can go to a bowl and have fun and this and that, but coming out with the win is the most fun part. It was a great experience."

OU didn't need Toomey against Arkansas. The Sooners limited the Razorbacks to 50 total yards in a 10-3 victory.

Not that the West Des Moines, Iowa, native left empty-handed. Sponsors lavish gifts on players at postseason games, and Toomey said he still had his Palm Pilot and PlayStation 2, among other freebies.

As the only player on KU's roster who has even stood on the sideline for a major-college bowl, Toomey fielded a few questions from his teammates after the Jayhawks accepted an invitation to the Tangerine Bowl.

"We talk about it once in a while," he said. "Somebody will come up and ask, or I'll just say, 'I can't wait. These gifts are going to start coming in. Orlando's going to be pretty warm.' It's fun to talk about. They spoil you. You have to stay focused on why you're down there."

The Jayhawks are down here for their first bowl game since 1995. Toomey was one big reason KU was able to make a major leap from a 2-10 record in coach Mark Mangino's first season to 6-6 in year two.

"He plays hard all of the time," Mangino said. "He attacks every task with vigor and enthusiasm. He is a tough kid. The kids see the tempo he plays with, and they want to emulate that."

Toomey plays so hard he can be a danger to himself. The linebacker has struggled with a recurring shoulder injury, has a cut on his nose that won't heal and has had his bell rung a few times while making tackles.

"One of his injuries has been obvious because he has been down on the field a couple times with it," Mangino said of the shoulder. "He has two or three other nagging injuries he has had to deal with. He has never missed a rep and very seldom misses any time at all. He certainly is hoping he'll feel a heck of a lot better than he did the last four or five weeks of the season."

Toomey registered double-figure tackles in four of KU's first five games but managed that feat in only two of the last seven games. Having a month without a game since the Nov. 22 regular-season finale against Iowa State helped the Jayhawks get healthy.

"I'm feeling good," said Toomey, whose 118 tackles are second only to fellow linebacker Nick Reid's 126. "I'm rested up. I'm ready to go. I think everybody in the nation needs a rest after a 12-game season. It takes a toll. I needed a rest like everybody else -- physically and mentally."

Toomey (6-foot-4) plans to spend the offseason getting bigger and stronger for his junior season. He started preseason practices at 220 pounds and has bulked up to 230.

"That's the first season I've ever put on weight," he said.

The team lifts weights with strength and conditioning coach Chris Dawson three times a week during the season, and the Jayhawks will see even more of him this winter. That's fine with Toomey, who hoped to add another 10 pounds for the 2004 season.

"Off the field he has been a great kid here," said Mangino, who was an assistant coach at OU during Toomey's red-shirt season. "He goes to class and takes care of his business. He's been very likable. The people in the community have really warmed up to him. He is a good kid that comes from a good family. He has been a solid addition to our football team."]

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