Toth Setting Example as Athlete, Student, Leader

HOOVER, Ala. – He’s far from the face of Kentucky football, but there might not be a better player on the team than Jon Toth.

The star senior center is likely UK’s top NFL prospect. He’s on watch lists for both the Outland Trophy and the Rimington Trophy, not to mention a likely preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection.

There’s probably even less debate about whether Toth is the most intelligent player on the UK roster. He’s a mechanical engineering major set to graduate in December and a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member.

“The more you’re around him and get to spend some time with him, he’s an incredible guy,” Stoops said. “Very quiet, but he does his work. He’s really amazing.”

Between taking demanding classes and manning one of the most important positions on the field, Toth contends with a great deal of stress. Low-key and steady-handed, Toth hardly ever shows any ill effects.

“He’s a guy who’s an engineering major, but he’s constantly around our building,” Stoops said. “He makes it look easy. As you know, it’s very difficult for these players. They get pulled a lot of directions. They have a lot to do, a lot of responsibilities with their classes and their workouts, but he seems to do it very easy.”

But even Toth admits it’s difficult.

“It’s not easy, but I think I was set up well in high school to manage my time well,” Toth said. “That’s a huge part of it, is just managing your time and not watch TV and do your homework instead. Or do your homework and then go lift. Whatever it takes.”

“Whatever it takes” has been Toth’s mantra ever since he set foot on campus. Last season, for example, he gave up Netflix.

“I have time for all that,” Toth said. “I just choose to use that time for something else.”

That attitude has been essential to Toth’s continual improvement over his five-year career (he redshirted as a freshman). He played his first college game at tackle, but quickly shifted to center. All along, Stoops and his staff knew they had a building block as they began their work on transforming the culture of Kentucky football.

“We knew he was a special player,” Stoops said. “We really did right away. It doesn’t take much, through all the practice time that he had.”

That evaluation has been proven right, and now NFL scouts are starting to see the same thing. CBSSports.com ranks Toth the eighth-best center prospect for the 2017 draft.

“It’s definitely a thought that pops into your head, but you can’t let that be your forethought every day,” Toth said of playing at the next level. “It’s definitely come into my head, but it’s not something that I focus on every day.”

Toth can’t afford to be consumed by thoughts of his future. He’s just too busy pulling off life as both a high-level college player and high-level college student. 

In fact, Toth’s life is one Stoops points to often during the recruiting process.

“It’s extremely difficult, but it’s great to say, ‘Hey, talk to Jon Toth. He’s able to do that,’ ” Stoops said. “We have to give those guys the latitude in the offseason and the spring to do the coursework that they have to do, but then again, he makes it look easy. He does not miss very much. He’s a workout junkie. He’s always in there.”

Stoops isn’t the only one who notices; Toth’s teammates do too. He has developed into more of a vocal leader entering his final college season, but the example he sets will always be most powerful. 

“That’s the guy you need to look up to,” Jojo Kemp said. “That tells you there’s no excuse. You come to college, you get your education and you play football. There’s no excuse when you see somebody like Jon Toth getting it done. It just motivating to the younger guys and guys like myself.”