Notre Dame’s ‘Other’ Laie Star

Robby Toma dives for a touchdown against Navy. Notre Dame Athletics photo

Laie’s Robby Toma vividly remembers how hard he worked as a youngster in preparing for each football season.

“Sometimes we would run up this hill in Laie my dad called ‘Walter Payton Hill’ until I would throw up,” he recalls. “I remember my dad picking me up after school in the sixth grade and we would drop by Malaekahana, where I would run 400s and he would time me. If I made my time, he would take me to get a candy bar,” the Notre Dame senior remembers. “Mostly, I would get Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I wasn’t allowed to get Butterfingers, because my dad said that might make me drop a pass.”

As Toma grew older, he rarely dropped any pass thrown in his direction. At Punahou, he was known for his leaping grabs and his nifty moves in the open field. He was an all-state wide receiver and the coOffensive Player of the Year in helping the Buffanblu to the state high school championship.

Toma and heralded Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o were best friends on that Punahou team, with Toma driving them to and from Honolulu from Laie every day that senior year.

“I drove, he slept,” Toma says, laughing. “I couldn’t be more proud of all his awards (this year). I remember how hard we worked together, ever since we were 8 years old working out in his big front yard.”

Toma joined Te’o in their collegiate journey to South Bend, Ind., and earned his first playing time as a freshman. By his junior season, the 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound slot receiver was a part-time starter and one of the top pass-catchers on the Fighting Irish roster. His biggest games this year were a five-catch game against Michigan State and a six-reception game in the season-saving double-overtime win over Pitt. He says this year’s run to No. 1 in the national rankings has been nothing short of magical.

“No one could have imagined us being 12 and 0, but that’s a testament to our team and our hard work,” he says. “There’s been so much pressure, week in and week out, but we’ve fought through it.

“When we beat Oklahoma, we celebrated in the locker room like crazy,” he adds. “When we beat USC to finish 12 and 0, we just went nuts. We were yelling, ‘We’re going to the Ship!'”

The “Ship,” of course, is the BCS National Championship Game in Miami, where Notre Dame squares off against defending national champion Alabama Monday night, Jan. 7. The whole Toma family is expected to be there: Dad Ross and mom Tammy, along with brother Kenny and a host of aunties and uncles.

“We’re so excited,” says Tammy.

The Notre Dame college football star was home for a few days in Laie during Christmas break before heading back to South Bend, and then on to Miami for championship week.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” says Toma, who graduates with a degree in film and television, and hopes one day to be a reporter, sportscaster or news anchor. “We’ve been through it all (the past few years) – a coaching change, a couple of 8 and 5 seasons that just didn’t cut it. Now, that we’re 12 and 0, it’s great to realize that we’re the seniors who helped turn things around.”

It all started in Laie.