Sept. 21, 2012
By Amy Stuhldreher
Inspiration in Laie, Hawaii, is what ultimately brought wide receiver Robby Toma to Notre Dame.
Toma has always loved football, and he began playing the game in the Aloha State at the age of five. He enjoyed flag football enough that he decided to move up to contact football four years later. Toma quickly realized, though, that he was smaller than most of the other guys on the field, so he decided to take a break from football in eighth grade before beginning high school.
Luckily, Toma's hometown supports and fosters strong football identities.
"My hometown of Laie is a huge football town, so it was always just assumed that I was going to play [football]," Toma says. "I love the game, and it is something that I grew up around. I can't imagine what it will be like when it's over."
Toma's love for the game and the encouragement of his community got him back onto the gridiron in high school, and those inspirations and support helped to shape him into the successful Notre Dame football player and student that he is today.
Toma even recalls that his best football memory to date is that of his high school football team winning the state championship in Hawaii for the first time in their school's history.
"Our school had never won a state championship before, so it was an awesome experience that I'll never forget," Toma says. "It's great to be able to say that I was part of the first state championship for our school."
He ended his senior year of high school football at Punahou with a great win, and he began his senior season at Notre Dame with a touchdown in Dublin, Ireland as part of the Irish rout of Navy 50-10 three weeks ago. For his efforts, Toma was ultimately selected by head coach Brian Kelly in the locker room as the player to lead the team in the post-game rendition of the victory march.
Toma answered the bell for the Irish again two weeks ago against Purdue. With senior All-America tight end Tyler Eifert and sophomore WR DaVaris Daniels both out with injury (Notre Dame's top two receiving threats) and the score tied, 17-17, with just over two minutes left in regulation, Notre Dame needed its leaders to step up.
Toma, who had just two receptions for eight yards entering the drive, had a pair of clutch grabs for 25 yards on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, including a monstrous 21-yard reception on third-and-10 from the Purdue 41-yard line.
It is those type of moments that have helped Toma become a key player for Notre Dame as a go-to wideout, and he considers this to be his greatest achievement in college. Wide receivers are generally taller than 5-foot-9, but Toma did not let that discourage him as he started in seven football games in 2011.
"A lot of people initially thought I was just a `throw-in' (last-minute decision), so I am really happy to have gone against the odds, started in seven games last year, and be able to go into my senior as a contributing player," Toma says. "That would probably have to be my greatest achievement here at Notre Dame."
The decision to come to Notre Dame was not easy for Toma. He underwent a difficult recruiting process, and he could not be sure, initially, if Notre Dame was recruiting him for him, or if Notre Dame was just recruiting him to accompany his lifelong best friend, Manti Te'o.
Toma is a confident person who is true to himself, and he did not want to join Notre Dame football for the wrong reasons.
Notre Dame's head coach at the time was Charlie Weis, who knew of these concerns and personally addressed these fears with Toma right away during his recruiting process.
"For the last two months of recruiting, I got to know Coach Weis really well, and then I was sure that they really wanted me for me," Toma says. That was probably the biggest thing, but I also couldn't pass up the tradition of Notre Dame."
Toma was assured that Notre Dame's famed football program truly wanted him and his football skills to represent the institution on the football field.
Notre Dame is all about tradition and forming a second family away from home. Toma has come to experience this first-hand with the family that he has made on the team. This type of lasting bond and brotherhood has made his Notre Dame football experience great, and Toma can only positively describe his time over the last four years.
"The unity on the football team creates a family," Toma says. "We all come from far away, so we're forced to get along with each other, and it has all worked out for the best."
Toma is more than just a Notre Dame athlete; he is also a successful senior majoring in Film, Television, and Theater (FTT) in the College of Arts and Letters. Toma used to make the football team highlight videos in high school, so he knew that this major was the perfect fit for him.
"I can't see myself doing a profession other than one that deals with sports," Toma says. "As long as I am working with sports and TV, that is my main focus. Whether I am behind the camera or in front of the camera, I will be happy."
When he is not in class, playing football or finding a few minutes from time to time for Call of Duty, Toma also makes an effort to actively participate in the Notre Dame Hawaii Club on campus when he can.
"They [the Hawaii Club] have the Luau each year, and we [the Hawaiian football players] go over early and do what we can to try to help set up around our busy schedules," Toma says.
The football team also participates in two weeks of community service during their summers of training in South Bend, which Toma was able to be a part of and give back to the community.
"We [the football team] do the two week service program over the summer, and I got to work at the homeless shelter," Toma says. "It has been an eye-opening experience for me."
Athletics, academics and service are all integral aspects of the full Notre Dame experience, which truly prepares you for future endeavors.
Toma knows that Notre Dame has prepared him well to succeed in his future.
"Being so far away from home has forced me to grow up and mature, probably faster than I was ready to," Toma says. "I have only gotten to see my family a couple times per year, which has been difficult, but sticking it out and not giving up has made me the man that I am today."
Since this will be Toma's final year, he has started to realize how much he will miss his time at Notre Dame.
"This is Notre Dame, and the people here are family to me now," Toma says. "That brotherhood is something that I am really going to miss. Being at Notre Dame was so similar to my high school where those friends are my friends for life, and that's what these people at Notre Dame will be too.
"To my family and friends, I love them all," Toma says. "I have stuck it out for them. And for everyone who says that you can't do something...don't listen to them."