By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. - When it comes to numbers, Stanford senior tight end Levine Toilolo is only interested in one: the number of wins. The rest is mostly out of his control.
That's why you won't see Toilolo sulking or complaining about his statistics this season because they only tell part of the story. Through 11 games, he has 22 catches for 377 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-8, 265-pound Toilolo averages a team-high 17.4 yards per catch, and more often than not, is double-teamed.
"We all have our roles here," he said this week. "When I get a chance to make a play, that's something I have to do. I still feel like I need to do a better job of that when the ball comes my way. At the same time, we have a lot of weapons."
While Toilolo is a mismatch for most opposing defensive backs, he's no bargain for linemen and linebackers, either. With his size and power, he has helped pave the way for senior running back Stepfan Taylor to surpass 1,000 yards rushing for the third straight season.
"Levine is kind of the unsung hero for a lot of the things we have accomplished," said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "I think he's the best blocking tight end in the country. He's proven that every single game, and that's so much a part of what we do."
Toilolo and classmate Zach Ertz were named to the Mackey Award Midseason Watch List, quite an accomplishment for tight ends from the same team. Ertz is now one of three finalists, which is just fine with Toilolo. They celebrate each other's touchdowns with leaping body bumps in the end zone and are close off the field. Following last Saturday night's upset against top-ranked Oregon, they went out for burgers after returning to campus.
"We're always happy for the other guy's success," said Toilolo. "We take great pride in both of us doing well."
Toilolo had a huge game against Arizona, catching five passes for a career-high 141 yards and one touchdown. He also grabbed three passes each in the wins against Oregon and then No. 2 USC.
"As coaches, all you do is coach the quarterback to go through his progression, and Zach has just been in those positions right now," Shaw said. "You never know. It could always change back the other way. I know when it's his time, Levine is going to make some big plays for us."
It could come Saturday, when No. 11 Stanford faces No. 15 UCLA in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 North Division title. If the Cardinal win, it would play the Bruins in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Nov. 30th at Stanford Stadium.
Shaw said he seldom devises an offensive game plan that focuses on one player.
"He's the best blocking tight end in the country. He's proven that every single game."
Which is fine with sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan. Hogan, who will make only his third career start, loves having options, and Toilolo and the 6-6, 252-pound Ertz give him plenty.
"They do a great job when I scramble," said the mobile Hogan. "They're big targets, athletic and find ways to get open. When they do get downfield, there's not many teams that can cover them."
Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for Toilolo, who was born in San Diego. Three uncles - Dan Saleamuna, Edwin Mulitalo and Joe Salave'a played in the NFL, while cousins Jacob Tauanuu (San Diego State) and Jericho Toilolo (Cal Luthern) played college football.
Asked to describe his demeanor, Shaw said of Toilolo, "He's like me. He's from San Diego. He's a very cool customer and is ultra-competitive. But besides that, he just wants to play well, and he wants us to play well. He loves being able to make a key block for Stepfan to break one. He takes a lot of pride in that. He's a phenomenal teammate."
"He's a very hard worker and a great teammate," Hogan said. "He's very supportive and always trying to get better. He's a great person to look up to as far as work ethic goes."
A science, technology and society major, Toilolo isn't sure how often his number will be called against UCLA. But it doesn't really matter. The only number that matters is a "W."