Kadarius Toney deserves to have the record set straight.
Toney, 22, did nothing wrong in 2018, though two gun-related incidents from that year followed his name into last weekend’s NFL Draft.
He wasn’t arrested. He wasn’t carrying a gun illegally. If he put himself in danger, it was out of loyalty, described by his friends and family as his defining trait.
The Giants know this. They’ve known it since assistants Jody Wright, Kevin Sherrer and Jeremy Pruitt recruited him as a quarterback out of Mattie T. Blount High School in Prichard, Ala.
“They know this kid and what he stands for,” Lev Holly, 40, Toney’s coach his junior and senior seasons, told the Daily News. “He’s a really good football player, but he’s a tremendous person.”
On the field, Toney is the electric “KT,” who won six straight PeeWee Championships in six years between ages 7 and 12. In the music studio, he’s “Yung Joka” — a play off Batman’s nemesis — with four albums and a Spotify page nearly as impressive as his Florida highlight reels on YouTube.
But it’s time for New York to meet Kadarius, the youngest of seven children from Mobile, Ala., son of father Dana Toney, 55, a Navy veteran who works for the United States Postal Service, and mother Angela Williams, who works for the Huntington Ingalls shipbuilding company in Pascagoula, Miss.
He’s a “country boy” who goes “fishing and crabbing,” Dana told The News on the phone Saturday. Who prefers to spend Friday nights listening to music and playing video games with friends. Who’s “not gonna open the door unless it’s the pizza man,” his dad said with a laugh.
Toney came up with “structure, love and guidance,” his father said, in an area one scout described as a “rough part of town.”
“He was never out of the reach of his parents,” Dana Toney said. “He’s a church member. His great grandfather was a deacon. He wasn’t a guy that grew up on the street.”
Toney has an older brother in the Army (Dana Toney III) and another who’s a retired veteran (Dana Toney Jr.), as well. He graduated high school early in December 2016 and was just 16 years old when he early-enrolled at Florida in January 2017.
In college, friends said you could find him at one of three locations: the studio, class, or practice.
“He’s not gonna be any off-field issue,” his father said. “He wants to win. He wants a championship. I know ownership knows this, but the Giants’ fans really don’t understand what they’ve brought into the organization yet. He’s a good kid. And he will lay it all on the line.”
It’s time to understand why the Giants’ research, according to sources, revealed a person universally liked and respected at the University of Florida; who brightened people’s days and did the right thing.
So let’s talk about that loaded Smith & Wesson assault rifle that police found on the backseat of Toney’s car three years ago in Gainesville, Fla.
“I think sometimes you have to understand the person,” head coach Joe Judge said Thursday, “and you have to understand the character on a deeper level than what just may be Tweeted out.”
Here’s what happened: In 2018, Toney was one of seven Gators players suspended for their season opener over an ongoing rift with Gainesville locals, namely Devante “Tay Bang” Zachery, a gambler with a bad reputation.
Zachery told Gainesville police in a July 25, 2018 incident report that the beef had started with a “playful” Feb. 10 argument “about guns” at The Gold Room nightclub with Florida players Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Tyrie Cleveland and C’yontai Lewis. Police said it escalated with a Feb. 17 fight between a larger group of football players and locals at the same club.
On Feb. 25, a Gainesville officer witnessed approximately 8-10 Florida football players “walking very aggressive[ly]” and saying things like “Where they at?” at TB McPherson Park. The officer advised them not to seek a fight with locals, and they left.
Then on May 28, Toney and teammate Kyree Campbell were recorded carrying weapons that looked like assault rifles — but were actually airsoft (BB) guns — while confronting the locals on campus.
But here is what does not make into the scouting reports that can assassinate an NFL Draft prospect’s character:
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“To my understanding, the [local] guy came up and had firearms,” Dana Toney said. “Kadarius and them ran and got nervous. That’s what happened.”
Indeed, Zachery and two other men had been hanging around the dorms asking for Cleveland. When they were chased off, one man allegedly yelled “we coming back strapped,” Florida linebacker David Reese told police on June 1.
When they returned, Reese said one of the locals had a semi-automatic handgun, another was carrying a baseball bat, there was a red “laser” on teammate Kevin Gamble’s chest, and one of the locals yelled: “Come any closer, I’ll spray you.”
Toney, an 18-year-old underclassman who did not live on campus, had received a phone call from his teammates asking for help. As he drove, Toney tried to flag down a University police car, “but the driver didn’t see him,” he told police in a June 11, 2018 incident report.
Campbell and Toney only used the airsoft guns to scare the locals away and keep their friends safe. Zachery later posted on Facebook: “Damn the University of Florida got some b*tch a** football players,” and was banned from campus by police for three years.
Dana Toney welcomes questions about that time in his son’s life because, as the facts show, there are two sides to the story. Not that it made it any easier for him when he first heard.
“I was furious,” Toney’s father said of the conflict, starting with the February nightclub fight. “So as a parent, I got into my car that very next day and I headed to Gainesville. And I told him listen: your mother and I sent you to Gainesville to get an education and earn your degree through sports. We didn’t send you there for anything else.”
Dana advised his son he should have found a bouncer at the club to break up the initial tensions. He reminded him that “if that had happened to [the average] Joe, it would have never made the paper. You don’t realize you are different, but you are.”
The ongoing threat of Zachery, however, appeared to motivate Toney’s purchase of the real gun that police found in his car on July 22, 2018, when they stopped him for a seatbelt violation.
“Why you got a gun?” one officer asked, according to body camera footage.
“Protection, man. Locals,” Toney said. “These locals be coming after us.”
Toney was not arrested or charged, only briefly detained. He had not violated any open-carry law. Teammate Brian Edwards showed a “level of resistance” getting out of the passenger’s seat, per police, but Toney had to be consoled by an officer.
“Look at me. Don’t be down,” an officer told Toney, who had his head down. “Don’t get yourself down. Stay up.”
The moment news reached Toney’s father, Dana was back in his car. “Again, I got into my vehicle and drove the five, six hours to Gainesville,” he said.
Toney “immediately dropped his head” when his father and Toney’s uncle, Jason, a retired Air Force veteran, sat him down. “But I said, ‘Head up,’” his father recounted.
His father assured Kadarius of his second amendment right, but he explained safety procedures and told him that as a star athlete, “this incident will come up in the future.”
“I need you to be man enough to explain it,” he added. “Own up to your actions, and explain your actions. I really want you to understand this because it’s gonna depict you as something that you aren’t. You’re not that.”
Holly contends that forming an opinion of Toney for having that gun is “stereotyping.”
He has a point. One NFL scout asked the Daily News if a white teenager would have received the same level of scrutiny for a non-arrest over carrying a legal gun.
The best thing that came out of the whole ordeal, though, as Dana Toney saw it, was that “the nightlife” his son had been introduced to was over.
“And I said, ‘Find another outlet,” Dana Toney said. “And then Kadarius said: ‘I need a few dollars to go down to the studio.’”
Thomas Swanson, a Gainesville music producer, received an Instagram message in the summer of 2018 from a sophomore wide receiver looking to record some tracks.
“I knew who he was,” Swanson, 27, who goes by Swanbeatz, said on the phone Friday. “I was excited to meet him. I had no idea what to expect from him musically.”
On top of everything else, Toney’s longtime friend and former teammate, Ja’Christopher McCants, had died at the age of 19 in a one-car accident that August.
“They were friends since they were like five years old,” said Holly. “That’s when he really took off with the music.”
Everything clicked. Toney and Swanson hit it off as friends and collaborators. And now “Yung Joka” has a “soft autotune melodic style” (Swanson’s description) laid down across four albums, including “Warrior II,” his most recent release on New Year’s Day.
Since this is the NFL, some anonymous scouts have seen the parental advisory stickers, Toney’s septum piercing and the loud “Joka” chain around his neck and voiced concern in reports that Toney might put his music career before football.
But that’s another negative opinion not based in fact.
Roy Holmes of EXOS spent 10-11 weeks training Toney in San Diego, Calif., for Florida’s March pro day, and it took Holmes weeks to find out — from someone else — that he had a musician in his midst.
“Kadarius is a great, humble kid,” Holmes, 41, said Saturday. “He locked in. He was one of the best teammates I’ve seen here. If you judge this kid by what you see on the outside, you’re not gonna see the person.”
Swanson said Toney doesn’t prefer music to football. It’s simply his second love.
“I remember in 2019 when he was injured, he came to the studio and we just watched his team play South Carolina together,” Swanson said. “We didn’t make a single song. He was just interested in watching it on TV with me.”
Track three of Toney’s “Warrior II” album is titled: “Sum 2 Prove.” Holly said as many opportunities as Toney gets, that’s how much he’ll prove.
“If he would have gotten the opportunity to play quarterback at Florida, then guess what? You’d be seeing him right here in this draft,” he said. “Man, the kid can do it.”
Holly retired Toney’s No. 4 jersey in January, though, just as much due to his character and the example of humility he has set — signing endless autographs, accepting his college position change with grace, always smiling.
And above all, making his parents proud of the man they raised, not just the player he is.
“I remember his first game in college,” Dana Toney said. “Cowboys Stadium against Michigan. They lost, and he was furious. But when he came out after the game, I told him I didn’t care if he won or lost the game.
“When you ran through that tunnel and I saw my name Toney across your back, that was all I needed. That was it.”