NCF Nation: Al Toon
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to examine the names you need to know coming out of spring ball. Daryll Clark and Terrelle Pryor won't appear on this list because if you're a true Big Ten fan, you know who they are. But spring practice provided some clues about other potential stars throughout the league.
Memorize these names and you'll look good in front of your buddies this fall.
Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State -- It shouldn't be a surprise any more, but Penn State appears to have found yet another standout pass rusher in Crawford. The sophomore dazzled this spring and looks ready to take over Aaron Maybin's role on the edge.
Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin -- The son of former Badgers great Al Toon made waves this spring at a critical position of need for Wisconsin. Toon has all the tools to be a top-end Big Ten wide receiver this fall.
MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota -- Believe the hype. That was the theme coming out of Minneapolis this spring as Gray took most of the snaps and showcased his impressive skill set. He'll back up Adam Weber but should see the field a lot.
Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa -- McNutt might not win a starting job, but his talent won't go to waste. Iowa needs more playmakers to emerge at wide receiver, and McNutt, a converted quarterback, should enter the rotation after an impressive spring.
Stevie Brown, S/LB, Michigan -- I know, I know, Brown is a risky stock to buy because he's been on the All-Spring Team before. This year could be different, though, as Brown enters his final season and seemed to settle in nicely to a hybrid role in Greg Robinson's defense.
Brian Linthicum, TE, Michigan State -- The Spartans already had depth at tight end before Linthicum came along. But the Clemson transfer worked his way into the mix this spring and could be the No. 2 option behind Charlie Gantt.
Brian Rolle, LB, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lose a lot of production at linebacker, but Rolle looks ready to fill the void. His speed stood out this spring, and he'll play a major role in the rotation.
Brandon Saine, RB, Ohio State -- The wait for big things from Saine could finally be over as the junior got through spring ball unscathed and looked very impressive. Saine has the dynamic qualities to change games and should complement Dan "Boom" Herron in the backfield this fall, if he stays healthy.
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin -- Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren can't wait to get Watt on the field. A transfer from Central Michigan who began his college career as a tight end, Watt transformed his body and blossomed this spring. He can play either line spot for Wisconsin, which loses three multiyear starters up front.
Jarred Fayson, WR, Illinois -- The Florida transfer has yet to play a down in orange and blue, but he has already made an impression on his teammates, namely quarterback Juice Williams. Illinois is stacked at wide receiver, but Fayson likely earned a starting job with his play during the first chunk of spring ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- The music catches you off guard.
Ringback tones are common with cell phones these days. If you call several of Nick Toon's coaches at Wisconsin, you'll hear House of Pain's "Jump Around" -- Wisconsin's unofficial fight song between the third and fourth quarters -- before they answer.
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|Nick Toon caught 17 passes for 257 yards in 2008.|
If you call Toon's cell, you hear ... Michael Jackson's "Black or White." Really?
"Oh, yeah, I love Michael Jackson," Toon says after answering.
Toon is his own man with his own unique tastes in music, food and other subjects. These facts need to be pointed out because he will always be fighting an uphill battle for independence at Wisconsin.
Here's his problem: He plays wide receiver for Wisconsin and has "Toon" on the back of his jersey. Most Badger fans don't struggle to name that Toon.
Nick's father, Al ,starred for the Badgers from 1982-84, setting school records for career receiving yards (2,103), career receptions (131), career receiving touchdowns (19), single-season receptions (54 in 1984) and single-season receiving yards (881 in 1983). Al Toon's marks have since been eclipsed by Lee Evans and others, but the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver leaves a lasting legacy at the school.
Now another Toon is forging his own path in Madison.
"I've grown up with this pressure," Nick Toon said. "I was born into the situation I'm in, which is not a bad thing. It feels normal to me because I don't know any different. I guess you argue that the pressure may be a little bit different at Wisconsin because my dad did play here, but I don't think it'll be any different anywhere else in the country.
"My dad is a pretty widely known athlete. He's a great receiver. The comparisons are going to be made. I just try to do my own thing."
And he's doing it well this spring.