Seeing NFL scouts at an Indiana State football practice is common these days.
A year ago, Robert Tonyan Jr. might not have been so at ease with the visitors.
“If this was last year, I’d probably be a little nervous,” said Tonyan, a McHenry East graduate.
“This year, when they’re here and they’re following me around, I feel like that’s a compliment. There have been a lot of scouts here. I shouldn’t be worried about it. I should just do what I do every day.”
What Tonyan has done every day this season as a redshirt senior has been impressive.In only his third season at receiver for the Sycamores (3-1) of the FCS, he ranks fourth in the nation with five touchdown catches and is 14th nationally with 6.8 receptions a game.
Although he is not allowed by NCAA rule to have contact with pro scouts, Tonyan certainly has drawn their attention with his 27 catches and 11.4-yards-a-reception average this fall.
Last weekend, in a 34-31 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory against No. 9 Illinois State, Tonyan grabbed the 15th touchdown of his career, tying Indiana State’s school record. The win helped the Sycamores crack this week's STATS FCS national poll at No. 24.
“I’ve continually grown as a receiver and a player,” said Tonyan, who spent his redshirt year in 2012 and his freshman season in 2013 as a quarterback. “I’ve gotten more confident on the field and at my position. It’s just coming together the right way at the right time.”
Tonyan’s soaring confidence dates back to Oct. 31 last season at Illinois State, when he caught nine passes for 117 yards and a school-record three touchdowns. A one-handed TD grab landed him on "SportsCenter’s" Top 10 plays that night.
“If I can do that in my second year of playing receiver, it put the idea in my head that I could do it more,” the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Tonyan said.
In the Sycamores’ second game this season, a 58-28 loss to Minnesota, he made eight catches for 90 yards and matched his record with three touchdowns.
“It set the tone for me this season that that’s what I expect of myself,” he said. “I’m not going to go out every game and catch three touchdowns, but I can make an impact.”
Over the past eight games dating to last season against Illinois State, Tonyan has 47 catches for 613 yards and nine touchdowns.
Tonyan, who played at about 220 pounds last season, has been working all around the field this season. Along with playing out wide in the red zone, he has been coming out of the backfield as an H-back and running routes out of a three-point stance as the backside tight end.
“The coaches are moving me around,” he said. “I’m doing everything a hybrid tight end in the NFL would do. It’s helping out our offense.”
Having a shot at the NFL has become more of a reality for Tonyan, whose focus on improvement has extended away from the field.
He spent time this summer training under the direction of Chris Leathers, owner of Your World Fitness in Spring Grove.
“He always told me that I deserve this, and I put myself in the position to succeed, so I should own it and be proud of myself,” he said. “I give him a lot of credit.”
Along with improving his play on the field, Tonyan’s focus has been on nutrition, training and injury prevention with Leathers and David McMannus, Indiana State’s director of strength and conditioning.
“When I go grocery shopping, I’ll text Coach McMannus or call Chris at home,” Tonyan said. “All those little things, I’ve taken them a lot more seriously.”
Lion’s share of kills: Penn State’s women’s volleyball team is off to a 2-0 start in Big Ten Conference play thanks to Richmond-Burton grad Ali Frantti, who has started every match this season.
The 18th-ranked Nittany Lions (10-3) have won eight consecutive matches.
Frantti, a junior outside hitter, is averaging two kills per set and had a team-high 11 kills on a .579 hitting percentage in a 3-0 victory against Rutgers last weekend.
R-B grad earns recognition: R-B grad John Flood, a senior defensive end at D-III Wisconsin-Whitewater, was announced this week as one of 156 finalists for the 2016 William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s top football scholar-athlete.
A senior majoring in mathematics and physics, Flood has a 3.72 grade-point average.
Flood is a three-year starter for the Warhawks and has helped the team, which is 3-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally this week, to a pair of national titles in his career.
Record day for NCC: Huntley’s Gillian Young used a career-best round to help D-III North Central’s women’s golf team to school-record scores over 18 and 36 holes at last weekend’s Illinois Wesleyan Fall Classic.
Playing at Ironwood Golf Course in Normal, Young posted a first-round 76, her all-time best, in the Cardinals’ 312 score. The sophomore added a second-round 84 to finish 18th with a two-day total of 160. North Central placed fifth as a team with its record score of 634. The two-day total Cardinals bettered the previous school record by 11 strokes.
On par at Augustana: Gabe Askam (Jacobs), a junior golfer at D-III Augustana, placed 10th individually with a two-day total of 155 (74-81) at last weekend’s Clarke University Fall Classic at the par-71 Thunder Hills Country Club in Peosta, Iowa. His finish was the best this season and lowered his scoring average to 76.5, which is second on the team.
Concordia cruises: Corey Sheehan, a freshman running back from Crystal Lake South, made his collegiate debut last weekend in D-III Concordia University’s 42-10 football victory against Maranatha Baptist. Sheehan was the game’s second-leading rusher with 21 yards on six carries and played on special teams. Sheehan also is a member of the River Forest school’s lacrosse team.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.