Shaka Toney had the physical tools to earn a football scholarship to Penn State, but it was a conversation at the start of his senior year at Imhotep Charter that added a new aspect to his game and helped him enter college as a more complete player.
The talk came with Imhotep’s new defensive coordinator in 2015, long-time area high school coach Mark Schmidt, who taught him about the mental component of football and became, in Toney’s words, one of the people “that had the biggest impact on my life.”
That approach, which led Nittany Lions coach James Franklin to call his redshirt junior defensive end “really one of the most cerebral guys” on his team after a three-sack performance last week against Purdue, has helped Toney throughout his career.
“He told me that if you really want to have a leg up on your opponent before you step on the field, know everything about him and know everything about the team that you’re going against,” Toney said of Schmidt during a conference call Tuesday. “So he really just had a huge impact on me.
“That’s one thing about me going into college that I felt like I took most seriously as far as my development. I can see things that a lot of people won’t even take the time to see and be able to make plays based on pre-snap reads and making good decisions and good judgment calls because I know what’s going on.”
The week before the Purdue game, Toney, who calls himself “a big film guy,” watched every snap of the Boilermakers’ previous game, against Minnesota. He studied both the tackle, Will Bramel, who would line up opposite him, and the Minnesota defender for how he played against Bramel.
The study paid dividends. Toney had three of Penn State’s 10 sacks in the game.
Even though Toney is known for his pass rush, he has earned the admiration of his coaches and teammates for how he’s worked to make himself into an effective all-around Big Ten defensive end after signing as a 195-pound Imhotep senior. He’s now up to 243 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame.
Franklin said he “couldn’t be more excited” about Toney as a player, as a leader, and as a person.
“Shaka’s got great perspectives,” he said. “He’s thoughtful. He’s intelligent. He cares about his teammates. He cares about a lot of different subjects, and he’s been great. I’ve learned a lot from Shaka, appreciate Shaka, and I know our team does as well.
“I think the thing that probably people don’t appreciate enough is how intelligent he is. His football IQ is off the charts.”
Toney is thankful for all the advice and guidance he’s received since entering college, particularly from two former Penn State defensive ends from Philadelphia, Shareef Miller and Deion Barnes, with whom he says he speaks “once or twice a month.”
“When it comes to critiquing my game, figuring out how I need to get better or what’s the next step, I will refer to those guys all the time,” he said. “They’re truly my mentors and my older brothers. I look up to them. We all come from the same place, same environment, same background, same upbringing. So just having them as a resource is truly beneficial.”
Toney said a long list of people, including former teammates Torrance Brown and Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley), “helped me become who I am today.