Standing on the Arizona Cardinals sideline in street clothes for his team’s season opener Sunday night, Cole Toner realized his view of the game could have been worse.
Like millions of others, the former Roncalli lineman could have been watching it on television.
That won’t be necessary considering Toner, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound rookie guard selected in the fifth round out of Harvard University, made the Cardinals’ 53-man regular-season roster.
Toner, who grew up dreaming of one day making an NFL roster, found out on Sept. 3 — two days after Arizona’s final preseason game, a 38-17 win against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos — that his dream had become a reality.
Story continues below gallery
“We had made our offensive line cuts that Friday morning, so I went out to eat with my family,” said Toner, referring to his parents, Dave and Angie, as well as assorted aunts, uncles and cousins who reside in Tempe.
“It was pretty much a situation where no news was good news.”
Toner’s versatility along the offensive line is currently being utilized at guard, where 12-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowl selection Evan Mathis starts along the right side.
Arizona’s starter at left guard is Mike Iupati, a former first-round selection taken with the 17th pick by San Francisco in the 2010 NFL Draft. Before the season began, Earl Watford had been assigned the duty of backing up both Mathis and Iupati.
Now the plot thickens.
Mathis was carted off the field with an injury to his left foot in a loss to New England. If Mathis is unable to play Sunday when the Cardinals host Tampa Bay, Watford gets the start and Toner becomes the backup for both he and Iupati.
Toner, the first Harvard offensive lineman selected in the annual NFL Draft since center Matt Birk in 1998 — Birk went on to be named to six Pro Bowls in his 14-year career — arrived at his new workplace July 24.
During the ensuing weeks, he found himself learning from the likes of Mathis, center and former Indianapolis Colt A.Q. Shipley and 6-8, 321-pound tackle Jared Veldheer.
Such advice was appreciated considering Toner was attempting to keep Cardinals’ defensive stalwarts such as tackles Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell away from his quarterback.
“It’s learning how to deal with guys who are incredible athletes and are also smart,” Toner said. “Learning how to block these guys has been difficult.”
The relentless Arizona heat makes staying hydrated difficult. Toner said applying sunscreen before the start of a practice is also common for Cardinals players.
Toner is one of seven rookies on head coach Bruce Arians’ 53-man roster. Only two of Arizona’s players are younger — first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche, a defensive tackle, and safety Marqui Christian.
Teams are permitted to dress 46 players per game.
And while Toner wasn’t donning a helmet and padding in Week 1 like he is accustomed to, his chances appear slightly better with Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers coming to town.
No matter what happens, the past seven to eight months have been a whirlwind of excitement and possibility for the Toner family.
In February, Cole was invited to return to his hometown to take part in the annual NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. He impressed enough to be drafted by the Cardinals in April.
In July he reported to training camp — and then he made the team.
“It was really more relief than it was excitement,” said Dave Toner, who in the spring retired as athletics director at Roncalli High School. “Cole felt comfortable going into Saturday because he had been at the (Cardinals) complex the two days after the last preseason game and hadn’t been approached.
“It’s still kind of a pinch-your-skin excitement for us, and Cole is enjoying it, too. It’s a good job to have. One of those scenarios where it’s great work if you can get it.”
A look at the upcoming games on the Arizona Cardinals schedule:
Sunday;Tampa Bay;4:05 p.m.
Sept. 25;at Buffalo;1 p.m.
Oct. 2;Los Angeles;4:25 p.m.
Oct. 6;at San Francisco;8:25 p.m.
Oct. 17;N.Y. Jets;8:30 p.m.
Oct. 23;Seattle;8:30 p.m.
Oct. 30;at Carolina;4:25 p.m.