Cole Toner: From Ivy League Player to NFL Prospect


Harvard’s football program is known more for its history and legacy more than any recent successes on the field. But the Crimson have been a perennial powerhouse in the Ivy League, even producing talent worthy of the NFL occasionally. Star senior offensive tackle Cole Toner is poised to be one of the next Harvard products to take his skills to the next level.

By: Cory Burrell

Toner attended high school at Roncalli in Indiana. He put together a solid high school career. He was eventually named one of the top 25 players in the state by Indiana Football Digest and earned a place on the all-state first team.

But Toner was more than a football standout in high school – he was also a National Merit Scholar, and his academics prowess was good enough for Toner to attend whatever school he wished. Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Princeton both made offers for Toner.

FBS teams, however, were more reserved toward Toner. Army was the only FBS school to give Toner an offer, although Indiana offered a preferred walk-on spot and a few other school, including Cincinnati and Ball State, showed some interest. Still, even today, Cole believes he made the right choice.

“I think if I had been heavier in high school, a lot of Big Ten schools would have come offering,” Toner said in an interview with the Daily Journal. “Even if that was the case, I don’t know that I wouldn’t have picked Harvard…it’s been a great situation and a perfect place.”

Even as a freshman, Toner was praised by coaches as one of the most talented and athletic players Harvard had on their team. Cole quickly got accustomed to the caliber of play at the college level and, after an injury to the starting lineup, found playtime with the Crimson.

But Toner had much more on his side than just game experience – he also had the best practice partner he could ask for with Zach Hodges, a former Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts. Facing against an NFL-level talent had an immense impact on Toner’s development, as well as Hodges.

“It gets really deep down into AP-level stuff, as me and my coach call it,” Hodges said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson. “It’s more mental now with me and Tone…. I flip my foot a certain way in the way I lock him out, and it may trip him up for a week and then he figures something out to do against it and then I’m figuring some other wrench to throw his way.”

Toner echoed Hodges’ statement in an interview with Harvard’s athletic department.

“Those practices made us both better,” Toner said. “Playing against a player (of Hodges’ caliber) that I would not see against any other team in the Ivy League is why I’ve been able to have so much success. My best film might be me going against Zack in practice.”

This season, Toner, the most dominant member of Harvard’s o-line, helped push the Crimson to a 9-1 record. Even with just one loss on their record, Harvard, like all teams in the Ivy League, are not eligible for bowl games. Toner will still get one final game in his collegiate career to showcase his skills, as he has been invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.

It is still no guarantee Toner will warrant a draft pick from any team in the 2016 NFL Draft. Going undrafted is unlikely to end Toner’s career though – more than a few Harvard alumni, including Hodges, went undrafted but were still signed as free agents following the draft. If Toner is not taken, he will likely be a priority free agent who will field offers from more than a few teams in need of offensive line talent.

The Ivy League may not be a major pipeline to the NFL, but players like Toner prove there can still be exceptional talent found in every league in the nation.

Numbers to Know About Cole Toner:

  • 6: Number of active players from Harvard active in the NFL – Cameron Brates (Tight End, Tampa Bay), Desmond Bryant (Cleveland, Defensive End), Nicholas Easton (Minnesota, Center), Ryan Fitzpatrick (New York Jets, Quarterback), Kyle Juszczyk (Baltimore, Fullback), Zack Hodges (Indianapolis, Linebacker)
  • 3: Number of players drafted from Harvard since 2000. Juszczyk was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. Fitzpatrick was drafted in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. Isiah Kacyvenski (no longer in the league) was drafted in the fourth round of the 2000 draft.
  • 13th: Rank Toner received in Optimum Scouting’s Small School Big Board. His teammate, guard Anthony Fabiano, was ranked 12th. Both are projected as seventh-round talent.
  • 2: Number of games this season where Harvard scored less than 35 points (A 14-13 win over Dartmouth and a 35-25 loss against Penn).
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