One More Chance for A Statement

After an outstanding fall camp, junior Nick Toon never really got off the ground after suffering a nagging turf toe injury. With his body healthy and the Rose Bowl a week away, Toon is ready to finally break out, and give him a lift heading into next season.

MADISON - A Big Ten Championship ring, 11 wins and a trip to southern California can mask any disappointment junior wide receiver Nick Toon is feeling as he helps Wisconsin prepare for its final game of the season.

It can mask it, but can't completely take it away.

Despite finishing second on the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (413), Toon views this season as nothing more than an individual disappointment, one that never really got on track.

After being the standout performer in fall camp, a painful turf toe injury suffered in the opener at UNLV cost him the next three conference games and Toon never found his footing.

Playing in eight games, Toon never went higher than 72 receiving yards, but his final four games showed the potential is starting to return. Over the last third of the season, Wisconsin averaged 58.8 points per game, and Toon had 32 catches, 207 yards and all three of his touchdown catches.

"It's part of the game, and you have to learn how to deal with it," Toon said. "I am not where I want to be yet, but it's a good start."

That's another reason why Toon is anxious for next Saturday, when No.4 Wisconsin takes on No.3 TCU in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The other reason is to play for his dad, who never got the opportunity to play in college football's grandest bowl.

Leaving UW as school's career receiving leader (131 catches, 2,103 yards, 19 TDs), Al Toon played three seasons (1982-84) and the best he could manage was winning the Independence Bowl in Dec. 1982.

"I think everyone is really excited because not many people get the opportunity to play in a Rose Bowl game," Toon said. "I'm fortunate to be able to do this."

With a big performance against TCU's top-ranked defense, Toon is hoping for a springboard into next season, where he plans, barring any last-minute changes, to return for his senior season.

"I love Wisconsin and I love being a part of this program," Toon said. "I have a lot of unfinished business and I would like to come back and finish what I started this year."

He also wants to finish his degree. Last spring, Toon came in to UW Coach Bret Bielema's office to grab a piece of bubble gum out of the candy jar on the coach's desk. With a big smile on his face, Toon told Bielema that he just finished his best semester at Wisconsin, finishing with a grade point average of over 3.5.

"For him to feel that way about himself and what he accomplished, it has carried over into all aspects," Bielema said. "He's one of the first guys at everything. He's so consciousness. He's still a pretty boy, having his jersey the right way and the right shoes. I like the way he talks about the bigger picture at the right times."

Even without Toon's production, Wisconsin's offense has been on a record-setting pace. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten and is tied for fourth in the country (with TCU) in scoring offense, averaging 43.3 points per game. The Badgers will break the school record of 34.3 points per game, set in 2005.

Considering the Badgers have done the work not only without Toon for four games but without Big Ten Player of Year John Clay for the final four games of the season, the numbers catch the eye.

"John is a very explosive player … when he's healthy," Bielema said. "He's done a lot of good things in our program, and I know this, I said at the beginning of the year when No.1 (Toon) and No.32 (Clay) play well, we play well offensively. What's been nice this year is those guys haven't been in there as much as we thought at the beginning of the year and we still play well."

With Wisconsin losing three senior wide receivers and Mackey Award finalists Lance Kendricks, the Badgers are losing three of their top four pass catchers. It's a fact that Toon acknowledges, and a reason he has made these bowl practices his personal mission to prepare himself for a breakout game; a game that has been long overdue this season.

"I think Nick does a really good job preparing and he's got to help himself by caring that over into games," UW receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander. "He needs to relax and let the game to come to him, which happens by understanding the defense a little better, film study and time.

"Although he hasn't had the best year statistically as he would have liked, he's really grown. It's only a matter of time that he puts it together."

He would love nothing more for that time to be Jan.1.

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