‘It’s finally here’ Toney signs with Gamecocks
WILLISTON — Williston-Elko football coach Derek Youngblood remembers a conversation he had with an eighth-grader in his office before spring practice in 2015.
At the time KeShawn Toney wasn’t on anyone’s radar, but Youngblood could already see that he had the potential to be a big-time college football player. So he told him all about how the Blue Devils coaches were planning to use him on the football field, and he said leading up to that fall that his new freshman wide receiver could be the big surprise of the year.
No one was surprised by what happened Wednesday.
In a room overflowing with friends, family and coaches, Toney provided the ink that officially made his boyhood dream a reality. He signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at the University of South Carolina, where he’ll enroll in January after graduating early.
“I’ve been working for this for four years, all throughout high school, all the camps, all the working out, all the practices,” he said, after admitting he was at a loss for words on his big day. “It’s been a dream, but it’s finally here.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder, recruited by South Carolina as a tight end, was rated by 247Sports as a three-star prospect and the state’s 15th-best recruit in the Class of 2019.
Toney, a longtime fan of the Gamecocks, committed back in March and was one of Will Muschamp’s first pledges for this signing class. The area’s most talked-about player, Toney fought through injuries and double-coverage this season to catch 50 passes for 749 yards and nine touchdowns this season, and he became only the third Shrine Bowl selection in Williston-Elko’s rich history.
He was the team’s only Class A representative – something he said was a big honor – and bonded with future Gamecocks teammates like T.L. Hanna’s Zacch Pickens, Westwood’s Cameron Smith, and Central Carrabus’ (North Carolina) Derek Boykins. Continuing that bond is just one of many things Toney has to look forward to as an early enrollee.
“Really just getting to work early, learning the playbook early, starting practices,” he said. “Just being around something new – new group of guys, new group of teammates, just getting adjusted to everything.”
The Williston-Elko program has sent off plenty of players to play major college football, but Toney is the program’s first early enrollee. The kid Youngblood touted as a matchup problem at wide receiver as a freshman became the focal point of every opposing defensive coordinator by his senior season – and most still had no hope of stopping him.
“It never gets old, because it’s just dreams. You watch your kids dream,” said Youngblood. “KeShawn, especially – KeShawn’s always wanted to go to South Carolina. When you sit back and watch a kid be able to achieve what he’s always set out to do, it’s special. A special deal. I’m just proud of him.”
Toney plans to study in USC’s Sport and Entertainment Management Department, and Youngblood doesn’t expect the academic – or athletic – transition to be a difficult one.
“KeShawn has always put the work in,” Youngblood said. “I had a guy call me this morning, and I said today is the day where character, academics and talent meet at the table. It’s just a great day for him and his family – such a wonderful family. Very big supporters, not only of KeShawn but of our program, as well.”
The family won’t have to travel far – just around 50 miles – to check in on Toney and watch him play, which may have been the best news of all for his biggest supporters.
“It’s a blessing,” said Toney’s mother Samantha with a laugh, before revealing the kicker, “Because I had told him, ‘You can’t go far (away). You can’t go far.’ He always wanted to go there – he always did. ... ‘So take the opportunity to get your education, and do what you need to do. Stay focused, and you know mom’s always going to be there for you.’”
All eyes have been on Toney at Williston-Elko, something he said over the summer meant it was even more important for him to set the right example for his teammates. The recruiting process, which intensified after a sophomore-year offer from Georgia State, taught him to stay humble and how to be a leader.
Now, with Wednesday’s ink dried, he makes the next step into the vision Youngblood saw for him back when he was in the eighth grade.
“It’s been a journey,” Toney said. “I’ve battled through some injuries throughout high school. I’ve come back from those. I started with no offers, no anything – I didn’t get my first offer until the end of my sophomore year. ... I’ve been working for this. I worked out a lot of early mornings, a lot of crying, a lot of sacrifice to get here. That’s why I’m here, so it feels good.”