One week before the Big Ten canceled the 2020 fall football season, Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney spoke about what life would be like without a chance to play his favorite sport.
“I’m going to leave school with my degree, but if I can’t play anymore because of something not from my own will, I think that would probably really hurt me, honestly,” the fifth-year senior from Imhotep Charter High School said in an Aug. 4 interview with The Inquirer.
“I really hope I do get a chance to play. I will understand if we don’t for health and safety and things like that, but I love football so much, I’m willing to die for it. I’d risk anything for football, It changed my life. I was able to find something I truly love and focused all my energy on it and it’s gotten me this far.”
Now Toney and his teammates are supporting each other while his mother and her fellow parents are trying to help their sons through the disappointment and the challenges presented by the decision, and coming to grips with why the Big Ten decided to cut out football Aug. 11, more than three weeks before the scheduled season opener, because of the pandemic.
“When you don’t explore all options, when you don’t create plans once you make your decision to what the impact would be, how you handle that impact and keep working toward the best resolution possible, you’re going to have problems,” Deborah Toney-Moore, Toney’s mother, said Friday. “That decision didn’t have to come this early with no plans how things were going to be addressed.”
She said Nittany Lions coach James Franklin and the university have been “phenomenal” at keeping families informed, and credited the medial staff with installing a detailed plan to keep her son and his teammates safe from the beginning of voluntary workouts in June.
“They gave him that opportunity to pursue his dreams while putting the best safety plan in place,” she said. “Once we realized that there was a real path to safety and the consideration for his safety and welfare was addressed, it was exciting to see him being able to have an opportunity.
“It may not have been the full season which we were used to, but it really was exciting to be able to say we’re going to trust this process and we know that the best outcome is going to come out. Shaka is a really deep thinker so he helped us being a great partner, thinking us through, answering our questions and having other parents we can go to. We realized that he was in a situation that was a good opportunity.
To stop that process was “extremely troubling,” she said.
Toney-Moore said that while her son “doesn’t take his health and welfare lightly,” he still wants to play. He and his teammates are disappointed but are looking for the best path forward, she said.
“They’re doing everything they need to do,” Toney-Moore said. “I really have to applaud those young people for being so forward-thinking. Not only are they protecting their own interest, they’re protecting each other. So that kind of opportunity to see young people come together and realize it is for the greater good, it was really to be applauded. He knows that safety is a big concern. But at the end of the day, we have to figure out a way to move forward.”
She said she doesn’t know if a spring football plan would work especially since dates for games and the NFL combine might conflict for her son and other NFL Draft hopefuls seeking an opportunity to reach the next level. There’s also the winter weather factor early in the season.