Photo by Isabella Marley / Getty Images

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was blanketed in fog.

Fans were quietly filtering out of their seats. The game had ended, the band had played, and the home team had already retreated to the locker room for the final time this season. Except for one figure donning a blue No. 1 jersey kneeling at the midfield logo, his head bowed and the knuckles of his left hand pressed into the grass.

Senior wide receiver Kadarius Toney had just played his final game at The Swamp, a crushing loss to unranked 3-5 LSU that eradicated any potential playoff hopes Florida had. In the four hours prior to that quiet moment at midfield, Toney had left a piece of his heart and a part of his soul on that field.

Toney broke onto the scene as a freshman in 2017. A three-star recruit and two-time All-State team nominee from Alabama, he actually played quarterback in high school, scoring 47 touchdowns (32 through the air and 15 with his legs) as a senior. He came to Florida with the intention of keeping his position but wound up making his impact with his athleticism. He broke out in just his third game, a win over Kentucky in which he ran for a 36-yard touchdown out of the wildcat formation and threw a 50-yard bomb to receiver Tyrie Cleveland on his way to 124 all-purpose yards.

He continued to impress as a sophomore in 2018, with 500 yards from scrimmage (240 rushing, 260 receiving) on 46 touches, and was awarded the prestigious No. 1 jersey (along with cornerback C.J. Henderson) for his junior season in 2019. The jersey number, which hadn’t been worn in four years, is traditionally only handed out to the most dynamic and impactful players on the team with a legacy including Percy Harvin and Reggie Nelson.

Toney’s 2019 was a bit less productive, however. After a 66-yard touchdown in the season opener against Miami, Toney battled injury for most of the year. He went nearly two months without seeing the field and only recorded double-digit yards from scrimmage just four times. He only touched the ball 22 times across seven appearances, but still managed three receptions over 40 yards and a pair of rushes longer than 25 yards to highlight that his trademark explosiveness was still there.

There is plenty more to Toney than quick feet and agility, however. He’s been releasing music under the name ‘Yung Joka’ since 2019 with a pair of released albums (‘MillionDollarJokez’ and ‘SplitWorld’) and a pair of EPs (‘Warrior’ and ‘Beyond This’). His newest single ‘Goat Talk’ dropped in May. He even opened for Lil Keed in a show in Miami following the Gators’ Orange Bowl win over Virginia to end the 2019 season.

His football reached another level in 2020 as well, and it was clear from the beginning of the season. He increased his receptions and yards in each of the opening three games, catching at least one touchdown in all three. He outproduced all three of his previous seasons combined, with almost 1,000 yards from scrimmage already (977) and 11 trips to the end zone, including a punt return against Kentucky. He dwarfed previous career-highs with 62 catches and 831 receiving yards this year with likely two games left to play, and he had his first 100-yard game against Vanderbilt.

All of the previous four years reached a climax that fateful, foggy night in Gainesville as Toney got one final shot to etch his name in stone and cement his Gator legacy.

He got to work right away. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Kyle Trask found an open Toney down the right side of the field for a 44-yard gain.

The electric receiver never looked back from there. With the world watching through the settling mist, Toney ran rampant over the Tigers. He caught nine passes for 182 yards and a touchdown as well and ran for 56 yards on three carries, a new career-high in rushing and receiving yards. He had five plays for over 20 yards, including a 49-yard catch on Florida’s first drive of the second half.

However, despite Toney’s heroics, he and the offense still had work to do when they took the field with 23 seconds remaining. Needing a field goal to force overtime and keep Florida’s playoff heart beating, Toney did what he had done all game: he delivered.

On the second play of the desperate drive, Trask found Toney sprinting across the middle of the field. Toney moved the chains and got the Gators into enemy territory, but the team seemed to be on the outside edge of field goal range and Toney appeared to be in pain after getting tackled awkwardly by a trio of defenders.

After standing on the sideline and looking hampered and uncomfortable for most of the timeout, Toney pulled his helmet down over his head and took the field for one final play and managed to get loose over the middle of the field one more time. Trask found him again and the ball hit Toney’s hands.

Then it popped out.

Florida fandom’s collective heart skipped a beat as the football bounced back into open air, but Toney managed to pull it back to his chest again, moving the team nine yards closer and well inside kicker Evan McPherson’s range, a fitting close to one of the more memorable senior nights at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Florida may not have won against LSU Saturday, but that should not distract from what was an epic performance by No. 1. As Toney knelt at the midfield logo after the conclusion of the game, it was clear that, while he may never take The Swamp donning the orange and blue again, he left a part of himself on that grass for the world to see.

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