Thursday brought news that Kentucky center Jon Toth was not just an All-SEC selection, as chosen by the Associated Press, but the senior from Indiana was a first-team All-SEC selection.
Sophomore linebacker Jordan Jones and sophomore safety Mike Edwards were second-team selections by the AP.
Toth’s first-team selection was something of an upset. LSU center Ethan Pocic is considered one of the best centers in the nation and had been the first-team pick on numerous other all-conference teams and is a finalist for the Rimington Award, along with West Virginia’s Tyler Orlosky and Ohio State’s Pat Elflein, for the honor which goes to college football’s best center.
Still, Toth anchored a Kentucky offensive line that produced not one but two 1,000-yard rushers. Boom Williams rushed for 1,135 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Freshman Benny Snell rushed for 1,057 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 per carry.
Toth has started 47 straight games at center, the longest streak in the nation. According to UK, he leads the team with 69 knockdown blocks and 195 blocks at the point of attack this season. With one game remaining, the Taxslayer Bowl against Georgia Tech on Dec. 31, UK is on track to set a school record averaging 5.52 yards per carry.
Toth has already been selected to play in the Senior Bowl in January. Scouts, Inc. has Toth currently rated as the 152nd best player in the draft. UK has had just one offensive lineman taken in the NFL draft (Larry Warford in the third round by the Detroit Lions in 2013) since Todd Perry was taken by Chicago in the fourth round in 1993.
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Toth’s All-SEC selection is also a feather in the cap of the UK coaching staff. When Mark Stoops arrived as head coach and Neal Brown as offensive coordinator in 2014, they along with offensive line coach John Schlarman decided to move Toth, then a redshirt freshman, to center. Never mind that the Indianapolis native had no experience at the position. He had played guard and tackle in high school and pictured himself as a college tackle. And at the time, the UK coaches admitted that Toth would take his lumps early on, but they felt like had the athletic ability and the smarts to be an excellent center down the road.
“Smart guys have always done well in this offense,” Schlarman said during Toth’s sophomore season. “He’s an athletic guy and he’s very intelligent.”
The staff was right on all accounts. Toth is a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member and is on track to graduate in December with a degree in mechanical engineering.
As Jennifer Smith wrote in August, Toth gets his drive from his mother, who is an engineer. Stacy Reifeis had 15 surgeries and had to learn to walk again after a motocross accident in 2006.
When it became apparent that Toth was going to make good on the staff’s prediction, it was a sign that maybe these guys know what they’re doing when it comes to identifying talent. And Schlarman has done of the more underrated jobs on this coaching staff, molding an offensive line that has developed depth and plowed the way for an effective, ball-control ground game.
One of Stoops’ goals has been to develop an offense that could run the football when a team needs to run the football. With Toth as the anchor, Kentucky got that done this season. It’s not coincidence that a bowl berth has followed. Or Toth’s well-deserved recognition.
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