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Ex-Rebel fits in on Harvard line

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A year ago, Roncalli High School graduate Cole Toner left for Harvard, wondering where he would fit in the Crimson’s storied football program.

As the sophomore from Greenwood suits up as a starter for Harvard’s season-opener Saturday at San Diego, it is clear he belongs.

“Last year, things worked out well,” Toner said of his time in Cambridge, Mass. “Some injuries created the opportunity for playing time, and I was able to work my way in.”

Indeed, he played his way into spot starts and became part of the offensive line rotation for a Harvard team that went 8-2.

This year, he is expected to rotate in the right tackle position as a starter on a Crimson team picked to challenge Penn for the Ivy League crown.

“The coaches have been good about bringing me along and giving me a chance,” said Toner, who said his time at Roncalli was especially helpful in preparing him to balance a tough academics and athletics schedule.

He earned four letters in football and basketball, was a National Merit Scholar and was named to the Class 4A All-State First Team as a senior.

Toner’s parents, Dave and Anne Toner, both teach at Roncalli, where Dave is also athletics director. Despite the 16-hour drive to campus, mom and dad made it to every game last season and hope to do the same this year, Cole Toner said.

His success at Harvard also has brought attention to Roncalli, where several current Rebels are targeted as potential recruits, Toner said.

One look at the 6-foot-7, 285-pound offensive tackle, and it’s easy to see why No. 78 is a big man on campus.

“Cole is definitely ahead of the curve at this stage of his development,” said fifth-year senior Nick Scheidler, a Whiteland graduate who preceded Toner as a tackle for the Crimson before concussions cut short his career. “If he continues to work hard and stay healthy, he will be fun to watch for years to come.”

Toner has put on about 40 pounds since high school, much of it muscle thanks to a daily weightlifting routine that he continued to pursue back home over the summer.

The Our Lady of the Greenwood graduate returned to Cambridge, Mass., in mid-August to start preparation for the Ivy League’s traditional late start. That journey will take him cross-country later this week, as the Toreros host the Crimson.

“We’re looking forward to starting the season out there,” Toner said. “It’s going to be a very good year.”

Toner and his Harvard teammates have quite a tradition to carry on in playing for the nation’s oldest university, one that has taken on new vigor under Coach Tim Murphy. The Crimson have the top winning percentage in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision since 2001 and fourth-highest among all Division I programs behind Boise State, Oklahoma and Ohio State.

Scheidler said Toner has fit right in as a player capable of helping to carry on that tradition.

“What makes him special is how hard he works to improve,” he said. “He keeps getting closer to reaching his full potential.”

Indeed, whatever doubts were there a year ago when he first stepped foot on campus are now distant memories.

“I’ve never regretted the decision I made to go Harvard,” Toner said.

As Toner and his teammates get ready to start a season full of great expectations, one thing is certain: Cole Toner belongs.

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