As small-college QB, Tokarz showed signs of coaching potential
Brien Cullen rattled off a number of positive characteristics about his former quarterback, Tony Tokarz.
He was extremely athletic, with a good arm and very good legs. He was smart and focused. And he always seemed to possess a great attitude and competitive spirit.
“You can tell just by a quarterback’s body language. When things are going tough, they kind of get down on themselves a little bit; Tony was never like that,” Cullen said. “He was always positive. Always.”
While Tokarz is a new name to many Florida State football fans -- he was promoted from senior analyst to quarterbacks coach this past week -- few know his strengths and weaknesses better than Cullen, his head coach at Division-III Worcester State University.
Tokarz was the starting quarterback for the school in Worcester, Mass., from 2009 to 2011, finishing his career with 4,604 passing yards (fifth in school history) and 1,193 rushing yards (ninth). He earned first-team all-conference honors as a senior.
But beyond statistics, Cullen said, Tokarz showed qualities back then that would eventually translate to a promising coaching career.
“Tony was a pleasure to coach, was very respectful for the game," he said. "Not just for the coaches, but for the game itself."
Cullen was there for every one of Tokarz’s 60 career touchdowns. In fact, he was there for every snap for the Lancers for nearly four decades.
The Worcester State legend took over as head coach in 1983 when it was still a club program and ushered it to the D-III level two years later. He maintained that post until retiring in 2019.
And Tokarz, who came to FSU two years ago with head coach Mike Norvell, remains one of his most memorable players.
“Probably one of the most athletic quarterbacks I had the 37 years I was there,” Cullen said. “He just had such a great attitude and a great spirit.”
Similar to his current pupil in Tallahassee, FSU starting quarterback Jordan Travis, Tokarz was known as a dual-threat in his playing days.
“When in doubt, he would use his legs. He threw the ball well, but he ran the ball better," Cullen said. "Like I said, he was probably one of the best overall athletic quarterbacks that I had. He would scoot around there and get that big first down or get a touchdown.”
After wrapping up his playing career in 2011, Tokarz first joined the coaching ranks in 2012 as receivers coach at Anna Maria College, another Division-III school in Massachusetts.
“It was kind of funny. His first year coaching, his first game he coached in college, he played against us,” Cullen said. “They were down at our place. They’re warming up, I’m coming onto the field.
“I’m like, ‘Hey Tony.’ He was warming up with the receivers. He didn’t even really turn around,” Cullen added, chuckling. “He was really serious.”
Two years later, in 2014, Tokarz joined the Memphis staff under Justin Fuente as a staff assistant and then graduate assistant. Then after one year as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Division-II Stonehill College, Tokarz went back to Memphis as a graduate assistant under Mike Norvell.
He was promoted by Norvell to tight ends coach in 2019. And Cullen recalls watching from afar as his former quarterback helped the Tigers enjoy a magical 12-1 season.
“I was really happy for him, because Coach Norvell was young -- one of the up-and-coming guys,” Cullen said. “He learned a lot from them. We were watching anytime we could on TV.”
When Norvell left for FSU in December 2019, he offered Tokarz a position as senior analyst for offense. In that role, he was not able to coach the QBs on the field, but he could take part in meetings, break down film and help with game-planning and on-campus recruiting. He was essentially the right-hand man for former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham.
So once Dillingham left for Oregon and offensive line coach Alex Atkins took the coordinator role, that opened the door for Norvell to promote Tokarz.
“Coach Tokarz has been a valuable member of my staff for many years, and I am happy he will take on a larger role with our program,” Norvell said in a press release. “He is a relentless worker who is extremely smart. He has tremendous knowledge of our offense as well as the quarterback position as both a player and a coach."
It was a move that certainly brought a smile to the face of his former head coach.
Of all the things he accomplished in nearly 40 years of coaching, Cullen said seeing former players like Tokarz carry forward his love of the game is at the top of the list.
“I’m prouder of that than any record, any conference that we won or things of that nature," he said. "It’s been very positive, not only for me, but for the university and for the program.”