Holy Toledo!

When the freshman class of 2001 took the field for the first time last August, many of the incomers were quite impressive. But by the end of the first day of practice at Husky Stadium, most people in attendance found themselves muttering the same words: "Joe Toledo." Hard to miss a 6-5 287 guy, especially one that can run, jump, and catch a pass like a man 50 pounds lighter.

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Toledo came to the UW in a heated recruiting battle with his home-state USC Trojans, ultimately deciding that getting away from Southern California would be in his best interest. Projected as a big tight end at nearly 300 pounds, the Husky camp was anxious to see what kind of player they had.

Within a matter of minutes, the answer was obvious. They had a hulk of an 18-year-old who had the body of an upper classmen and the speed and athleticism of a basketball player. Toledo made such an impression on that first day of camp that whispers began to surface that he may be impossible to keep him off the field as a true freshman.

Former UW recruiting coordinator Dick Baird said of Toledo, "That guy will be as good as Jerramy Stevens. He's the best true freshman I've seen in a long time."

Then on the second day of camp, that all went out the window on a simple slant route over the middle of the field. As Toledo reached out to make a catch near midfield, his foot gave away. He fell to the ground overcome with pain and anguish. Later, he was carted off the field and into the training room where it was determined that he had suffered a fractured foot. All the whispers and talk that arose so quickly faded even faster. Toledo didn't return until midseason, where he spent the remainder of the year on the scout team imitating opponents' offenses.

This year, the start of spring practices has Toledo chomping at the bit for a new start. With Jerramy Stevens' decision to forego his senior season to enter the NFL, the starting tight end job is up for grabs. Senior Kevin Ware and Toledo figure to be the main two vying for the starting job this fall.

Any way you look at it, that's music to Toledo's ears.

"Kevin's probably got the spot right now, but that's fine with me because we use a lot of two-tight end sets," said the redshirt freshman. "Me and Kevin really compliment each other really well so I'm really excited about the possibilities."

So far this spring, it's been a crash course of hands-on learning for Toledo, who no longer finds himself as a scout team player.

"I've probably learned the most in the last three days than I have in high school and college combined," laughed Toledo. "Being with Coach (Keith) Gilbertson and watching him analyze everything that I'm doing has helped so much."

"The offense is so hard to learn. We've put in about 20 plays over the past couple days. Just going through that in your head and trying to get it where it's second nature to you is hard. I'm just trying to get the basics down – drive blocking, keeping my feet in the ground, and running my routes."

To this point, Coach Gilbertson has already made quite an impression on Toledo. As one of the most well respected coaches at his position in the country, what Gilby says goes. Toledo's taking all the advice he can get and hoping it will translate into early success on the field when the games start counting.

"He's helping me on breaking out off my routes and getting to the right depth (on the field)," explained Toledo. "It's so much different than high school and even on the scout team. You've got to get to where you need to be and everything is so precise."

Come September, that precision is going to be vital for an offense that figures to be one of the best in the Pacific-10 Conference, if not the entire country, with everyone but Kyle Benn and Stevens returning.

Does Toledo feel any added pressure filling the shoes of a player the caliber of Stevens, who leaves Washington as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in school history?

"I don't think so because we've got so many weapons coming back," he said, referring to quarterback Cody Pickett, receivers Paul Arnold and Reggie Williams, tailbacks Rich Alexis and Braxton Cleman, and the entire offensive line sans Benn. With such a multitude of talent around, Toledo believes it will prevent the spotlight from being directly on the tight end position.

With a foot healed to the point where Toledo says it's at "99 to 100 percent," the powerful specimen of a football player is primed for a breakout campaign. Paired with Ware, it's difficult to find a more powerful duo at that position anywhere in the country.

Ready or not, here comes Joe Toledo.
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