Travis Toivonen has found a training partner. At least for now.
The former Red Wing and University of North Dakota standout wide receiver has been in Albuquerque, N.M., the last two weeks, staying with his girlfriend and her family.
Toivonen was a four-year starter at Division I UND. His college football career ended this past Nov. 30. But he has his eyes on post-collegiate football.
His goal is to wind up in the National Football League, and if that doesn’t pan out, the Canadian Football League. And if neither materializes this year, he plans to keep training and make another go at it next season.
Toivonen graduates in the next couple of weeks with an entrepreneurship degree. He figures to settle into a job as a personal trainer or football coach eventually. But that's on hold until he first plays out his football playing dreams.
“I really love playing sports,” said Toivonen, who finished with 684 yards receiving and seven touchdowns this past season at UND. “And being a competitor, it just seems natural to want to keep playing. It doesn’t seem like a real job. It’s just something I love to do, the whole process and working toward what shows up on the field.”
Toivonen almost certainly won’t get chosen in this week’s NFL Draft. But he can see himself getting invited to an NFL mini-camp this summer as an undrafted free agent, then sticking with a team if he can be on top of his game.
That in mind, Toivonen found himself in a tough spot when he showed up in Albuquerque two weeks ago. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all the gyms and football training sites have been shuttered. And as a newcomer to Albuquerque, there was no workout partner waiting for him. He knew no one, save for his girlfriend and her family.
Getting it done
Still, he’s made things work.
That’s in part thanks to having brought weights and resistance bands with him, which on a daily basis he attacks in his girlfriend’s garage.
It’s also thanks to La Cueva High School junior quarterback Aiden Nair.
“I was going to a high school in Albuquerque (La Cueva) every day, heading to the field to do workouts on my own,” Toivonen said. “I saw this kid on the other side of the field playing catch with someone. I went down there and talked to him and asked if he had any interest in throwing to me.”
Nair was all for it. They’ve been meeting ever since, as practice partners.
“So far, it’s been good,” Toivonen said. “We’ve been smart about it, keeping our social distance (due to COVID-19). But he’s a kid who wants to get better and it’s fun to meet someone who wants to take on that challenge. He’s a decent quarterback. But he said it was tough to adjust to throwing to me right away. He said I run a lot faster than the guys he was used to. And when he throws me jump balls in the end zone, he says he has to throw it a lot higher than he’s used to.”
Speed won’t be Toivonen’s No. 1 thing if he sticks with a professional team. He runs about a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, which is on the slower side in the pros. But he’s been working on that, both on his own now and prior to landing in Albuquerque, at ETS Performance in Woodbury.
“I want to run in the low 4.6’s,” Toivonen said. “Right now, I’m working on my speed and maintaining my ball skills.”
What is on Toivonen's side is his size and jumping ability. Toivonen’s 6-4 height and 210 pounds would make him a big target in the NFL, which is coveted. Also making Toivonen special is his ability to get up in the air. He’s got a 33-inch vertical jump, excellent for someone his size and especially valuable in the end zone where jump balls are often thrown.
He’s going to keep working on all of it until pro football no longer seems viable.
And if he does wear a pro jersey someday, La Cueva High School quarterback Aiden Nair will have some stories to tell.