Gus the Gorilla

By: Brian Pommier, Team Kong Contributor
Dec 31, 2012

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Gus the Gorilla sits in the west stands of Carnie Smith Stadium on a crisp late-December day waiting for an out-of-shape writer to huff-and-puff his way into the stadium.

While he waits, he thinks about his time at Pittsburg State.

No, not the mascot, who has seen PSU football games since the early days of the program. Gus Toca may have only put in four years on the turf, but he more than made his mark, anchoring a defensive line that helped deliver the 2011 NCAA Division II national championship to southeast Kansas.

“I was extremely blessed to come here,” said Toca, who is the 2012 TeamKong Player of the Year. The honor is awarded to a senior football player and is voted on by members of

Toca – a standout performer at defensive end and fullback at Blue Springs High School – made his first trip to Pittsburg as a senior in high school, when he attended a team camp at Pitt State.

As Toca was carrying his gear to the bus, he heard someone yelling his name. PSU defensive coordinator Dave Wiemers caught up with him and had a message.

“I heard ‘Gus, Gus, Gus,’ and I saw Coach Wiemers sprinting from 300 yards away,” Toca said. “He came up to me and was poking me in the chest saying, ‘We want you. We want you.’”

But the teenage Toca wasn’t impressed, initially. After all, it was summertime in Pittsburg, and it didn’t seem like a real exciting college town.

“I came here during the summer, and it was dead,” said Toca, putting extra emphasis on the word dead. “I was like, ‘I would never come here. There’s no one here.”

However, a chance to play on defense was the dealbreaker for Toca. He had chances to play for Division I Air Force, Northern Iowa and Arkansas State, but they all wanted him as a fullback. Pitt State, however, was willing to give him a shot on the defensive line.

“Later on, I talked with the coaches and came to visit,” Toca said. “I loved it. It’s a great community, the fans are amazing and I’m just blessed to be a part of it.”

Toca credits Wiemers, linebackers coach Carl Roth and then-head coach Chuck Broyles with bringing him to PSU.

While his first two seasons at Pitt State were less-than-stellar – a losing record in 2009 and a 6-6 mark in 2010 – Toca said team chemistry and a lot of hard work helped put the Gorillas back on the right track.

That hard work culminated in the national title in 2011. And while Toca said playing in the championship game was huge, it isn’t his favorite game he played while in the crimson and gold.

That honor belongs to the semifinal matchup the week prior against Delta State.

A sold-out Carnie Smith Stadium.

Extra lights for the ESPN3 broadcast.

A 30-degree night game against a “Southern speed” team that came in with an extra-helping of self-confidence that could have been contrived as cockiness.

 “Without a doubt, that was my favorite game. You can’t beat that. That’s as good as it gets. It was a good game for me, for sure. It’s in my top 5 for sure.”

Prior to the 2012 season, Toca was asked about the pressure of knowing the only way to top his junior season was to get back to Florence, Ala., and win the title again.

“We’re starting from scratch. We’ve just gotta go game-by-game. We’ve got athletes all over the place. We won’t be happy with anything less than a championship,” Toca said after the first practice back in August.

Now, with the benefit of perspective, Toca offers a more nuanced view of how things turned out.

“You try not to think about it, but there’s a lot of pressure, obviously,” Toca said. “Everybody’s going to come after you. As you could see, we took everybody’s best shot. It’s tough because we had such high expectations.

“It just shows you how lucky and how great the 2011 season was. We were a great team, don’t get me wrong, but we had to have a lot of luck, also. It shows just how tough it is to put together a championship team.”

With his career at Pitt State ended, Toca plans to graduate with a marketing degree in May. But that doesn’t mean he’s resigned himself to wearing a tie and schlepping his way to work every day. Instead, Toca has been working out with former PSU defensive lineman Aaron McConnell in an attempt to play in the NFL.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to play in the NFL,” Toca said.

For now, though, Toca is reveling in being known as the other Gus the Gorilla.

“It’s destiny,” Toca said. “Everybody when I first came here asked me what my name was. I told them that’s why I came here, because I had the same name.

 "It's just destiny."

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