Why me? Why now?
Those seem like fair, valid questions to ask for former Kentucky center Jon Toth, who was here on one of these Southeastern Conference Media Day stages surrounded by lights and cameras just a year ago.
Why me? Why now?
Invited to the NFL Combine, predicted to hear his name called in one of the later days of the draft, Toth instead found himself watching it while managing severe back pain.
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“I’m not going to act like I’m inhuman and didn’t have any emotions about it when it happened, like, ‘Why me?’” Toth told the Herald-Leader on Monday. “There’s certainly a time when that happens when you’re like, ‘This sucks. It’s terrible timing.’”
The timing seemed especially cruel when you consider that Toth never missed a game as a Wildcat, not once in four straight years. The center from Indianapolis rarely missed a snap.
It’s difficult, because as an athlete we compete at a very high level, and to have the doctors and the PT guys pulling back on the leash saying you can only do so much, it’s frustrating, but it’s necessary.
The First Team All-SEC lineman played in 49 career games for Kentucky with a nation’s best 48 straight starts. Toth was the leader of a Kentucky offensive line that finished No. 20 in the nation and third in the league in rushing yards a game at 234.2.
Sure, he had dealt with back pain from time to time. Almost all offensive linemen at every level do. It’s part of the job description, he said.
He’d experienced pain and discomfort, but never like the kind he felt just two weeks before the NFL Draft.
“It was kind of a freak thing, just a buildup over time, and then it just kind of happened,” Toth said. “I was just getting out of bed one morning and it was just a freak thing.”
Toth is about seven weeks removed from surgery in Los Angeles, Calif., on a disc in his lower back.
He has been doing physical therapy back home in Indianapolis with every intention of getting back on the football field and making an NFL roster.
But physical therapy and recovery present their own unique challenges for the annual member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, who graduated from UK with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“It’s difficult, because as an athlete we compete at a very high level, and to have the doctors and the PT guys pulling back on the leash saying you can only do so much, it’s frustrating, but it’s necessary,” he said.
“It goes against your intuition as an athlete. You want to do as much as you can and punish yourself because that makes you better. But you have to do that in a smarter way now. I do, just going through this rehab process.”
I’m fully committed, 100 percent, to getting back on the football field and being able to compete this fall. There are a lot of guys who are playing currently in the NFL who have had the same issue I’ve had and are playing for 10 years.
Since the diagnosis and surgery, Toth has been in regular contact with several teams about his future. He visited with teams after the draft and attended several rookie minicamps.
“I couldn’t do things on the field when I was going to those camps, so they said they were interested, the teams I’ve been in contact with,” he said. “And they said keep them in the loop, keep them updated on my progress.”
Toth’s goal is to get back on the field as quickly and safely as he can. He expects to start lifting weights full time in the next couple of weeks.
The former UK center has no plans to start hunting for a mechanical engineering job in the near future.
“I’m fully committed, 100 percent, to getting back on the football field and being able to compete this fall,” Toth said. “There are a lot of guys who are playing currently in the NFL who have had the same issue I’ve had and are playing for 10 years.”
Knowing that helps quiet the “Why me? Why now?” questions that Toth could be asking himself.
He has other things to worry about.
“This is definitely something you can come back from and excel playing football,” he said. “It’s a violent sport and injuries happen, but I’m fully expecting to be back stronger than I was before.”