NOTRE DAME — The hairstyles of the Notre Dame football team hardly qualify as breaking news, but the orange-blonde look Robby Toma sports nowadays can’t help but draw a few eyes.
It’s a result of losing a bet, as Toma tells it. In a heated Kobe Bryant/LeBron James debate, Toma bet the Miami Heat, James’ team, could beat the Bryant-led L.A. Lakers in a regular-season NBA game.
The Lakers won, and Toma lost his dark brown hair to a bottle of dye.
At least he’s good for his word. His hair color isn’t the only thing that has recently changed for the senior receiver.
After three years of trying to find his place in the Notre Dame offense, head coach Brian Kelly’s decision to combine slot receiver and running back may be the best thing that could have happened to Toma.
At 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Toma’s quick and shifty play style mixed with experience at running back from his Pop Warner days makes him an ideal fit for his new role.
“Coach Kelly is finally figuring out that I can do some extra stuff,” Toma said after practice Saturday afternoon. “I have more talents than just in the slot.”
Toma spend most of his sophomore season in 2010 filling in for the injured TJ Jones and Theo Riddick. His role evolved slightly last season, and Toma started four games, caught 19 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown.
Although Toma may see himself as a 20-carry-a-game guy now, Kelly isn’t so fast to throw him into the mix with Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.
“Again, it’s matching personnel,” Kelly said after practice Friday. “It’s not necessarily that Robby runs the inside zone extremely well, it’s matching personnel so we can move guys into different positions on the field. It’s just multiple formations to allow us to move the defense, and it might be just to move the defense so it opens up a Tyler Eifert, or it opens up something else.
“It’s not something that we would evaluate as (Toma is) in the mix to be one of the running backs. But because we’ve tagged the position as a slot receiver position, when the play call comes in and he’s in the game, sometimes he’ll find himself in that position.”
In other words, Toma’s time at running back may be limited to practice situations for the defense.
But don’t expect that to slow down the Laie, Hawaii, native, especially since he’s still a strong contender for a starting role this season.
“Our offense is so dynamic and we have so many lethal players, we can learn every spot on the field, and that can only help our team,” Toma said. “Any time you’re an older guy and you’re getting a lot of reps with the Ones, it feels great, you know, to get the respect from your teammates and from the staff. It means a lot to me.”