A third-gen­er­a­tion Toler re­turns to Bay Area foot­ball.

Toler III back in bay, where grand­fa­ther, fa­ther played

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Rusty Sim­mons

It re­quired a cir­cuitous route through Ger­many, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Italy, Canada, Or­lando and San An­to­nio, but the prodi­gal son of the First Fam­ily of Berke­ley ath­let­ics has re­turned.

Burl Toler III is back at Memo­rial Sta­dium this sea­son as Cal’s run­ning backs coach, the mag­ni­tude of which will be felt in full Satur­day when his fa­ther is cel­e­brated dur­ing a game against UCLA that, for many, will have the feel of a fam­ily re­u­nion.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Burl Toler Jr., who will re­ceive the Glenn Se­aborg Award while his son prowls the side­line. “He’s al­ways wanted to be in­volved in coach­ing, and to be back at his alma mater with fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings, it’s tremen­dous. “He’s back home.” The Bay Area be­came the Tol­ers’ home in 1945, when 17-year-old Burl Toler Sr. moved from Mem­phis and started a three-gen­er­a­tion legacy of ex­cel­lence.

Toler Sr. was on the City Col­lege of San Fran­cisco’s foot­ball team that won the myth­i­cal ju­nior col­lege na­tional cham­pi­onship in 1948 and was one of the stand­out play-

ers on USF’s un­de­feated 1951 team.

The Dons, who had three fu­ture Pro Foot­ball Hall of Famers on the ros­ter, were in­vited to play in the Or­ange Bowl — but only if they left their two black play­ers (Toler and Ol­lie Mat­son) at home. The team re­fused the in­vi­ta­tion.

Toler Sr. broke the color line for NFL of­fi­cials, be­com­ing the first black ref­eree in any North Amer­i­can pro sport in 1965. He was an ed­u­ca­tor for 17 years, in­clud­ing be­ing the first black prin­ci­pal at a sec­ondary school in San Fran­cisco and serv­ing as a trustee at USF.

Toler Sr. died in 2009 in Cas­tro Val­ley at the age of 81.

“He used to al­ways say: ‘Do your best, and the best will be good enough.’ That’s part of my coach­ing and teach­ing phi­los­o­phy and part of the way I live my life,” said Toler III, who has child­hood mem­o­ries of won­der­ing why his grand­fa­ther kept drop­ping his yel­low hand­ker­chief on the field dur­ing games. “When you have higher ex­pec­ta­tions for your­self than oth­ers do, it’s not a sur­prise how much you ac­com­plish, and that was part of his phi­los­o­phy. He was just go­ing to do ev­ery­thing he could do, and he ended up do­ing it all. …

“He was never go­ing to be de­nied.”

Those mes­sages were im­parted to Toler Sr.’s six chil­dren, in­clud­ing his name­sake. Toler Jr., a Cal line­backer who went from walk-on to cap­tain and helped the team win a share of the Pac-8 ti­tle in 1975, has gone on to a dis­tin­guished ca­reer as an ar­chi­tect and project man­ager.

On Satur­day, Toler Jr. will re­ceive the Glenn Se­aborg Award, named for the No­bel Prize-win­ning chemist and peace ac­tivist and given to a Cal alum in recog­ni­tion of his post-col­lege ac­com­plish­ments. For Toler, that’s quite a few: He’s man­aged or as­sisted with the de­sign on con­struc­tion projects of well more than $1 bil­lion in the Bay Area, in­clud­ing at SFO, the UCSF Med­i­cal Cen­ter and UC Berke­ley. He also cre­ated the Ca­reer Coun­cil board, a group of Bay Area pro­fes­sion­als who men­tor Cal foot­ball play­ers; has been the pres­i­dent of the Big C So­ci­ety; served as a mem­ber of the Board of Re­gents at both St. Ig­natius and Bishop O’Dowd-Oak­land high schools, and was the direc­tor on the West County Waste Wa­ter Dis­trict Board.

“I’ll cher­ish this honor for life, be­cause Se­aborg em­bod­ied the com­plete­ness of life: meld­ing to­gether ath­let­ics, aca­demics and be­ing suc­cess­ful as a hu­man be­ing,” Toler Jr. said. “Cal is a place that I truly love and en­joy, and it’s ben­e­fited me, my wife and our fam­ily in such a pro­found way that my words can­not pay jus­tice to how good it had been.

“Hope­fully, we’ve hon­ored the uni­ver­sity in a re­ally good way with the Toler name.”

Toler Jr. met Su­san Ta­mayo, his fu­ture wife, when they were fresh­men at Cal in 1974 — a meet­ing that Su­san says came about be­cause she could al­ways hear Toler’s voice in the Unit 2 dorms.

They’ll cel­e­brate their 40th wed­ding an­niver­sary in Fe­bru­ary, hav­ing never lived more than 30 min­utes from the Berke­ley cam­pus and of­ten us­ing Memo­rial Sta­dium as the back­drop for their lives.

They had five chil­dren, four of whom were stu­dent-ath­letes at Cal and all of whom were dressed in blue and gold from Day 1. Toler III re­mem­bers sit­ting un­der the score­board in the north end zone at Memo­rial Sta­dium, us­ing pro­grams to make pa­per air­planes and con­fetti as a tod­dler and tak­ing the games more se­ri­ously as he got older.

He would race with his brother, Cameron, through the cor­ri­dors at half­time, tak­ing turns be­ing Rus­sell White and the lead blocker as they weaved through the fans. They made sure to be near the tun­nel five min­utes be­fore the end of the game in hopes of catch­ing a high five or a sweat­band from one of the play­ers.

It was an ex­tra spe­cial Satur­day when Toler III caught a glove. He’d feel like a god for the rest of the af­ter­noon. There was no stop­ping him in the chil­dren’s game that re­li­ably played out on the hill­side by the Pappy Wal­dorf statue af­ter ev­ery Cal game.

“It’s magic that he’s back,” said Cameron Toler of his brother, who has re­turned to Cal af­ter sin­gle-sea­son stints at Fresno State and UC Davis. “Blue-and-gold and foot­ball are in his genes and in his heart. I knew he would find a path back to the game and to be­ing back at Cal.”

Af­ter walk­ing on at Cal in 2001, Toler III earned a schol­ar­ship as a sopho­more, be­came one of quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers’ fa­vorite pass tar­gets in 2003 and grad­u­ated with 69 catches for 873 yards and four touch­downs.

While mak­ing ends meet with teach­ing, a T-shirt busi­ness and per­sonal train­ing, Toler III de­cided he had un­fin­ished busi­ness in foot­ball and chased a pro ca­reer — ev­ery­where.

Af­ter sit­ting out a year to re­cover from knee in­juries, he went to Cal’s pro day in 2006 and signed as an un­drafted free agent with the Raiders. The day he got cut in Oak­land, he played for the Arena Foot­ball League’s San Jose SaberCats.

Toler III made an NFL Europe team in Cologne, Ger­many, in 2007 and was on Wash­ing­ton’s NFL ros­ter later that year. He zigzagged be­tween chances with Wash­ing­ton, San Jose and Italy in 2008, and then, the real tour of try­outs be­gan.

From 2008-10, Toler III would drive to Los An­ge­les ... to Las Ve­gas ... any­where for a shot. One of those try­outs led to a spot with the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats of the Cana­dian Foot­ball League in 2010. He played for the SaberCats again in 2011 and for the arena league’s teams in Or­lando and San An­to­nio in 2012-13.

“I had scratched and clawed for ev­ery chance, and at that point, I fig­ured: ‘I’ve pretty much played in ev­ery league pos­si­ble. I’ve checked off all my boxes,’ ” Toler III said. “My body was still healthy, but I started think­ing about my next move. Since foot­ball still wasn’t out of my sys­tem, I looked at coach­ing op­tions.”

Six days af­ter his play­ing ca­reer ended, he started coach­ing. Toler III was Cal’s spe­cial teams qual­ity con­trol coach from 2013-15, work­ing long hours for meal money and ex­pe­ri­ence. He was hired as Fresno State’s wide re­ceivers coach in 2016, and coached the re­ceivers at UC Davis in 2017.

When Cal hired Justin Wil­cox as its head coach, a 10th coach­ing staff spot opened and Wil­cox reached out to Toler III for what would be an 85-sec­ond job in­ter­view.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Wil­cox, who had stayed in touch with Toler III since he was a player and Wil­cox coached the Bears’ lineback­ers

Toler III was sup­posed to sign his con­tract Jan. 5, but his wife, Drea, was in la­bor with Burl IV. Know­ing the con­sis­tently chang­ing life of a coach’s wife, she told him to sign and then come back to the hospi­tal, but Cal al­lowed him to wait un­til the fol­low­ing Mon­day.

“That’s how ded­i­cated I am,” said Drea Toler, who grew up in Stock­ton watch­ing Min­nesota Vik­ings’ games with her fa­ther. “Be­ing the wife of a foot­ball coach is a bit like a roller coaster. You love the thrill of it, but there are ups and downs.

“Be­cause of his play­ing ca­reer, he’s kind of been groomed to al­ways work hard, but not to have any ex­pec­ta­tions. He’s com­pletely im­mersed him­self in each pro­gram at each step, and if one of us needs to step up and carry the other, that’s what we do.”

From Au­gust to De­cem­ber, Drea Toler does much of the car­ry­ing with daugh­ter Lale, 10, and Burl IV, now 9 months old. She said her hus­band takes out the garbage, but she sees him only about two nights a week dur­ing the foot­ball sea­son.

On Tues­days and Thurs­days, Lale trains with Golden Bear Gym­nas­tics from 4-5:45 p.m., and then stops by her dad’s of­fice af­ter­ward. In there is a tro­phy Lale made for him out of foil and spray painted gold five years ago.

There are fam­ily pho­tos ev­ery­where, and Burl IV’s name has been scrib­bled onto Cal’s run­ning backs depth chart.

Patrick Laird is tops on that chart, and Lale joined his sum­mer read­ing pro­gram. Alex Netherda is fourth on that chart, and he said he’s never played bet­ter than he has since Toler III re­turned to cam­pus.

“Coach Toler is the man,” said Netherda, who grew up a Cal fan in Santa Rosa. “In my eyes, he’s kind of like a liv­ing leg­end, es­pe­cially at Cal. He played here and went on to play in the pros. He’s an in­cred­i­ble coach.

“He’s a re­ally big car­rot guy. Not much of the stick guy. That’s awe­some. I’ve had a lot of the stick in the past, which is not fun. He’s not hard on us about mis­takes that we make, but he ab­so­lutely makes sure that we know what is ex­pected of us.”

Toler III said: “Even though I have the dream wife, dream fam­ily and dream job, I’m not done. I have as­pi­ra­tions of do­ing a lot more. … Hav­ing the Toler name, you want to strive for great­ness and make sure you never tar­nish it.

“You want to con­tinue the legacy.”

Pho­tos by Michael Short / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Burl Toler III, who was a re­ceiver at Cal from 2001-04, has re­turned to the school as its run­ning backs coach.

Toler had play­ing stints in the NFL, Europe, Canada and the Arena Foot­ball League.

Michael Short / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Cal run­ning backs coach Burl Toler III, pic­tured with his wife, Drea, and chil­dren Burl IV and Lale, fol­lowed his grand­fa­ther and fa­ther into foot­ball.

San­ti­ago Mejia / The Chron­i­cle 2017

A cutout of the late Burl Toler Sr., the NFL’s first black ref­eree, is placed for a photo with his fam­ily and friends at Toler’s alma mater, USF, in 2017.

San­ti­ago Mejia / The Chron­i­cle 2017

Burl Toler Jr. (cen­ter) will re­ceive the Glenn Se­aborg Award at Memo­rial Sta­dium on Satur­day. The honor rec­og­nizes his post-col­lege ac­com­plish­ments

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