Knee injuries he could handle. Being denieda shot at Division I football is another story.
Published Mar. 5, 2008|Updated Mar. 24, 2008

The pink surgical scar - a couple of inches in length - is emblazoned vertically down the lower part of Nate Toole's left knee. Twice in a one-year span it essentially was shredded on a football field.

Even so, Toole still walks normally. It's when he's immobilized - and trying to sit through a Division I football game - that he starts grimacing.

"It's just way too hard for me," said Toole, quite possibly the greatest football player ever produced by Hudson High. "Just to look and see and know that I could've played at that level ..."

This year, Toole will enroll at the police academy at Withlacoochee Technical Institute in Inverness. Those who examine the last three years of his life are likely to be steamrolled by the irony in his law enforcement hopes.

Because what fate has inflicted upon him, many suggest, is downright criminal.

First, Toole was completely overlooked by major colleges coming out of high school, landing instead at NAIA Quincy (Ill.) University, where his career was as phenomenal as it was fleeting. During his sophomore year, Toole set a school record with a 500-pound bench press.

"The (Quincy) head coach ... told me face-to-face he was the best player he had ever coached," Hudson coach Mark Nash said.

Then came the injuries, both sustained in the waning stages of games, no less. The second one prompted Toole - first a Hawks running back, then strongside linebacker, then speed rusher - to withdraw from Quincy and return to his Spring Hill home.

"I'm not the type of person that ... holds grudges," Toole said Tuesday from the booth of a Port Richey restaurant. "But the only thing I do (hold a grudge) toward is Division I football. I know I could've played at that level."

Scales, stopwatches, stats - all seem to validate Toole's claim. At Quincy, he was a veritable freak of nature; a speedster (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash) with the sturdiness of a linebacker (listed at 6-foot-1, 238 pounds).

"As an overall talent, Nate had it all," said Quincy redshirt sophomore and ex-Hudson center Allen Wynn.

"He was just as fast as our running backs and wide receivers, but then he worked out with the offensive and defensive lines. He had the best of both worlds; one of the best athletes on the team and probably our conference."

A 1,000-yard rusher as a Hudson two-way senior, Toole quickly made the transition to defense at Quincy, and ranked seventh on the team with 41 tackles as a starting freshman strongside linebacker.

In the second game of his sophomore year, he sustained two torn knee ligaments and a torn meniscus when a fullback hit his planted left leg from the side. Surgery was performed in Columbia, Mo., on Oct. 19, 2006.

Less than 11 months later, Toole was starting against Division I-AA power Southern Illinois in the '07 opener. Southern Illinois crushed Quincy 59-14, but Toole, aligned as a standup defensive end, led his team with eight tackles despite sustaining a torn ankle ligament.

He missed two games. Then on Oct. 6, against Olivet Nazarene, Toole's right leg went out from under him as he grabbed the quarterback from behind. As momentum carried his body forward, his left leg remained planted, ultimately bending until his ankle touched his back.

The following morning, the knee was swollen so badly Toole couldn't see his kneecap. Surgery to repair his retorn meniscus was performed Oct. 30. Shortly thereafter, Toole went to coach Bill Terlisner's office to inform him he was leaving the program.

Terlisner couldn't be reached Tuesday. Toole said he left Quincy on good terms.

"He was definitely a cornerstone of our defense," Wynn said. "There were a lot of things defensively that were set up around him and what he likes to do."

For now, Toole carries on the same way he carried the ball - straight ahead. He's making a daily 45-minute one-way commute to Tarpon Springs, where he works full time for a health care data-analysis corporation.

Upon completing the police academy, he initially wants to be a school resource officer and coach football. His evening workout schedule and diet - including chicken, oatmeal, protein shakes and six egg whites daily - suggest playing football still lingers as an option.

When asked about a possible return, Toole simply smiles. It shrouds another scar.

A psychological one.

"People ask me what my favorite team is, and I don't have one," he said. "I have favorite players and stuff, but I don't have favorite teams just because I'm bitter. I'm really bitter. I haven't really watched any games. I can't."