Former Roncalli standout ready for NFL Scouting Combine experience

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Cole Turner #78 (Photo courtesy of Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletics)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 19, 2016) – As he laid out plans to prepare for what might be the most important job interview of his life at next week’s NFL Scouting Combine, Cole Toner stayed close to home.

More to the point, he stayed right at home.

The genesis for Toner’s transition from standout offensive tackle at Harvard to the NFL can be found at locally-based St. Vincent Sports Performance. The hometown kid – born in Greenwood, multi-sport star at Roncalli High School – decided familiarity was critical.

“My agent told me to go where I would be most comfortable,’’ said Toner, who considered training facilities in New Jersey and Georgia. “I knew St. Vincent from being in town and from guys who had worked with them.

“It just seemed to be the best situation for me.’’

And let’s not forget the job interview itself. Lucas Oil Stadium is ground zero for the NFL Scouting Combine, and it’s about 10 minutes from Toner’s home on the city’s southside. He played at Lucas Oil Stadium twice while at Roncalli.

“Sure, there is a little bit of a comfort level there,’’ Toner said. “Mostly it’s just cool that it’s in Indy. It’s always been home for me. It was fun when it was the time of the year for the combine and a lot of really good players came to town.

“Now, it’s my turn. It’s really cool.’’

St. Vincent Sports Performance has been working with draft-eligible players taking that ultimate step in their progression since 2003. It’s a seven-week program aimed at preparing them for the Senior Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine, their on-campus Pro Day, private workouts for teams, whatever.

“I don’t care if we’re getting somebody ready for their middle school softball team or getting these guys ready for getting a helmet from the NFL or getting Ed Carpenter ready to ride again in his (Indy) car,’’ said Ralph Reiff, executive director of St. Vincent Sports Performance. “We’re helping people reach their goals.’’

Ten players from across the country began intensive training at SVSP Jan. 3 with the ultimate goal of being selected in the April 28-30 NFL draft. That includes Toner, whose work was shortened to four weeks as he continued to pursue his Government degree at Harvard, and Crimson teammate Ben Braunecker, a standout tight end at Forest Park High School in southern Indiana.

The program is wide-ranging. The on-field portion is tailored after what players will encounter at the combine – the 40-yard dash, cone drills, the bench press, positional work – but proper nutrition is stressed. Players also are put through mock interviews with former NFL executives.

“We’re getting them ready for their job interview,’’ Reiff said.

Toner used SVSP to prepare for the Jan. 30 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. while having both eyes firmly fixed on the NFL Scouting Combine.

Draft analysts have the 6-6, 305-pounder slotted as a mid-round draft prospect, and consider his versatility a major strength. He primarily was a right tackle at Harvard, but also played some left tackle and guard. Toner might slide inside to guard or center in the NFL.

“I’ve heard from people that I should start snapping because I could possibly be a guy that winds up at center,’’ he said. “That would be fine with me. I’ll do whatever I need to do to play.

“I feel like I can play at the next level.’’

The most telling evidence is Toner’s body of work at Harvard. He was two-year starter and two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection. The Crimson won or tied for three conference titles while posting a 36-4 record during Toner’s four-year career.

“It was a great four years,’’ he said.

And now, the NFL Scouting Combine. It’s the next and arguably most important step as Toner and more than 300 invitees attempt to convince NFL general managers and coaches they’re worthy of consideration on draft day.

“It’s the ultimate job interview, no question about that,’’ Toner said. “It’s presenting your best self.

“You’re showing teams the kind of player you are, the kind of person you are and what they can expect from you if they choose you to be on their team.’’

He discovered several years ago the lengths NFL teams will go in vetting players. He was heading into his senior season at Roncalli.

“During the summer after my junior year our coach, Bruce Scifres, got a few letters from the Raiders and the Packers, just asking for information about me,’’ said Toner, whose dad, Dave, is Roncalli’s athletic director.

“They do their research a long time back. They’re pretty thorough.’’

Rarity for Harvard

Toner and Braunecker formed a bond at Harvard. They’re friends, roommates.

They also give Harvard rare bragging rights over a couple of institutions more known for churning out football talent.

Harvard had more players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine (two) than Michigan (one). It has as many as Texas.

“Isn’t that incredible? How funny is that?’’ asked Toner. “I don’t know if it’s more of an indictment on Mack Brown’s recruiting at Texas or more good for us.’’

Toner and Braunecker are the fourth and fifth Harvard players invited to the Combine, but it’s the first time two players from the same Ivy League school were invited in the same year.