Saguaro Football Bound By Toci’s Selfless Leadership

(photos courtesy: Frank Ruben, Kelly Kassen)

On a team littered with Division I talent, Connor Toci likely won’t be the first name mentioned among Saguaro High School football stars past or present but for head coach Jason Mohns the senior athlete’s impact goes well beyond any stats you’ll find in a box score. 

“That guy embodies everything we’re about,” Mohns said to Sports360AZ.com. “He’s as Saguaro football as you get. It’s been awesome to watch and I couldn’t be any more proud of him. He’s going to be very successful in life because of the way he’s been able to lead this team despite his inability to play on the field.”

Toci’s story is about perseverance and selflessness, putting others before himself for the good of the team and the entire program, even when fate seemed to be working against him.

After patiently waiting his turn behind 2019 standout linebackers and current D-I players Connor Soelle (Arizona State) and Clayton Randall (Air Force) Toci, who played mostly special teams as a junior, was thriving in spring workouts before injuring his knee the day before the Sabercats’ on-campus spring showcase. 

What he thought was “just a typical MRI” two days later turned out much worse than expected as the captain suffered a torn ACL which would require surgery, essentially ending his #SagU career. Further frustrating the situation was, when the injury occurred, there was no “pop” or swelling in or around the knee which are common with ACL and MCL setbacks.

“I remember exactly where I was,” he recalled. “I was in my English class and I got a text from my mom. I was just devastated but I knew crying or mourning wouldn’t [fix] my ACL and I knew I had to be there for my team and I needed to do whatever I could do to get my team up. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do since my injury.”

— Connor Toci (@connortoci) November 28, 2019

The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder hasn’t just talked the talk, he’s walked the walk: torn ACL and all.

Whether in meetings, weights, at practice or in games Toci has been both an inspiration and source of stability since that fateful spring practice back in early May when he seemingly had his football life in the palm of his hand until the fragility of the sport unmercifully told him otherwise.

“He’s the hardest working player I’ve ever seen,” starting quarterback and close friend Tyler Beverett said. “I’ve known his since eighth grade and we’ve grown up [together]. He’s the definition of this program. He loves Saguaro football and bleeds black and gold. He’s helped our team any way he can.” 

Mohns’ words hold special meaning to Toci, not just this season as Saguaro looks for their seventh-straight state championship but moving forward in life, as well.

“It meant a lot,” he said. “Coach Mohns has had a lot of players come through this program and for him to say something like that about me is truly humbling. Coach Mohns has been like a second father to me. I’m very grateful to have him as a coach.”

The admiration is certainly mutual from a coach who not only preaches the proper X’s and O’s between the white lines but strives to teach his players about the pitfalls and uncertainties of life and how to thrive and be accountable, even when the deck is seemingly stacked against you.

“He understands the game but more than anything, he understands how to be a leader of men,” he explained. “That’s not something you can learn. That’s not something you can study in a book. You either have it or you don’t. He just has that gift.” 

The well-respected senior’s main message to his teammates throughout the Cats’ run to the Open Division Championship Game Saturday afternoon at Sun Devil Stadium against fellow dynasty program Chandler is simple.

“The greatest lesson I’ve learned is treat everyone with respect…play every snap likes it’s going to be your last,” he said. “I’m a true testament to that.”

It’s safe to say Toci’s legacy at Saguaro will stretch far beyond his final snap as a Sabercat.