As conversation stirred around the return to practice of Tre Madden, who rushed for over 100 yards in four of the first five games in 2013, Toland went about his business.
His mantra is short and sweet. “Outwork everyone else.”
Quiet by nature, the redshirt sophomore never strikes anyone as an abnormally demonstrative character. But his consistent play on the field speaks volumes about how he can impact the USC Football program in the most subtle ways.
Toland’s motivation comes from another player that burst onto the scene, Buck Allen, who now prepares for life in the National Football League following an All-Pac-12 campaign for Troy. Both redshirted their first season, and each got an opportunity to carry the rock because of long-term durability.
“He’d (Allen) always say ‘keep your mind right, keep working hard and the rest will take care of yourself,”’ Toland said after practice.
Those words stuck true for the Indio (Calif.) native who rushed 29 times for 102 yards last season, finishing third on the team in total carries. But as a walk-on tailback, knowing that star recruits like Ronald Jones II are coming into the fold this fall, every single rep can make or break his spot on the depth chart.
In Toland’s eye, the opportunity to play as a walk-on tailback comes from his hard style of running between the tackles.
“Its motivation,” according to Toland. “At the same time, every opportunity I get I want to come out here, work hard and make plays. Just like everyone else, but I wanna work a little harder. Up myself a level. You know, keep myself accountable to that.”
Grinding through daily workouts, Toland is able to maintain that determined mentality with the help of his teammates, the entire running back class. Coach Sarkisian and company have preached the importance of the ‘next guy up mentality’, and a non-scholarship player like Toland has taken that challenge by running right through it with full force.
He doesn’t flash with the speed or size of a top Pac-12 tailback. What Toland does have is enough determination, especially with the ball in his hands, to make you keep wondering why he hasn’t touched the football more often.
That was especially the case last season, when USC was limited in the backfield. Ty Isaac had transferred to Michigan, Madden was sidelined due to injury and sophomore Justin Davis was, himself, returning from injury.
As USC scrambled for a capable body to absorb the remaining reps, in stepped the 5-foot-11, 185-pound tailback with a major chip on his shoulder.
“When I have to step in and get reps I can’t whine or complain about being tired or anything,” explained Toland. “You just gotta suck up and put in the work because its for the team.”
That team-first mentality has earned the respect of his peers, even if it has led to a few more bumps and bruises along the way. And again during Tuesday's running back drills on Cromwell Field Toland was called upon early and often to make plays out of the backfield.
It may not be an easy path, but Toland’s not consumed with the amount of carries he gets in a game. It’s about following the script. He also knows that means buying into the message from Buck Allen, who attended practice on Tuesday watching the current crop of Trojans shoulder the load.
“I definitely have a hard nose mentality,” Toland said. “I’m just gonna keep working hard, put in the reps and let the rest just happen.”
Evan Budrovich is a class of 2015 USC Annenberg Broadcast Journalism Major. You can follow him on Twitter at @EvanBud.