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Mike Tolbert Finally Gets His Big Chance

“Growing up in a one-parent house, I’ve been the underdog all my life. I’m going to bust my tail harder than anyone else … in high school, they said I was undersized to be a linebacker, and I made All-America. At college they said I was undersized to be a fullback. And now they say I’m undersized to play in the NFL.”


Mike Tolbert, Aug. 2008 (interview with sdscout.com)

Tolbert was born Nov. 25, 1985, in the northwestern Georgia town of Carrollton, which is near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Tolbert played his prep football at nearby Douglas County High School in Douglasville, but he didn’t play fullback or an offensive position. Tolbert earned accolades while playing on the defensive side of the ball as a linebacker when the naysayers said he was too small (5-foot-9) for the position. Tolbert was named Douglas County Defensive Player of the Year as a junior (2002) and a senior (2003) and earned several local honors for his football prowess – including All-America and All-State. In addition, Tolbert lettered in basketball and received some academic recognition, including Who’s Who in USA High School Sports, National Scholar-Athlete and Presidential Scholar.

THE COLLEGE YEARS

Although Tolbert received big-time offers to play football for a couple of traditional college powers – no, he wouldn’t name them – Tolbert chose Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. Why? Tolbert said he enjoyed the scenery at CCU, and the school made him feel at home. A true team player, Tolbert volunteered to play wherever he was needed. The coaches needed a fullback, but they moved Tolbert to the position with some initial reluctance. They told Tolbert that he was too small to play the position, and he proved them wrong.

MIKE TOLBERT – CCU CAREER – 2004-2007

RUSHING

RECEIVING

YEAR

ATT

YDS

AVG

LNG

TD

REC

YDS

AVG

LNG

TD

2004

47

281

6.0

52

1

2

26

13.0

15

0

2005

49

202

4.1

16

4

3

20

6.7

17

0

2006

70

439

6.3

80

7

14

187

13.4

45

1

2007

111

748

6.7

86

9

7

58

8.3

14

0

TOTAL

277

1,670

6.1

—-

21

26

291

11.2

—-

1

Tolbert capped off his four-year CCU career by leading the Chanticleers (pronounced SHONT-ti-clears) in rushing during his senior season, which helped him earn first-team All-Big South Honors. The Georgia native also set a school record by rushing for 244 yards and two touchdowns versus Virginia Military Institute in 2007, which included a school- and conference-record 86-yard game-winning touchdown run late in the contest to break a 35-35 tie. The 244-yard effort also was just one yard shy of the Big South Conference single-game rushing record. In addition, Tolbert touched the ball 303 times during his CCU career and never turned it over.

THE NFL YEARS

As you probably guessed, there was no serious pre-NFL Draft interest in a 5-foot-9, 243-pound fullback from a small school who could run the 40-yard dash in the 4.58-second to 4.60-second range, catch the rock, block and play special teams. Tolbert was not drafted. He signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in early May 2008; terms of the two-year deal were not disclosed. 

MIKE TOLBERT – SAN DIEGO CHARGERS – 2008-2010

GAMES

RUSHING

RECEIVING

YEAR

G

GS

ATT

YDS

AVG

LNG

TD

REC

YDS

AVG

LNG

TD

2008

13

7

13

37

2.8

11

0

13

171

13.2

67

1

2009

16

3

25

148

5.9

32

1

17

192

11.3

66

3

2010*

2

0

18

108

6.0

29

2

1

13

13.0

13

0

* Through Week 2

Since LaDainian Tomlinson was the heart and soul of the Chargers’ rushing attack, offensive touches were rare for Tolbert during his first two years in San Diego. In 2008, he split touches and starts with fullback Jacob Hester. Tolbert caught a career-long 67-yard pass against the Denver Broncos (Week 2). He also scored his first career receiving touchdown on Monday Night Football against the New York Jets (Week 3). A late-season shoulder injury cut his rookie year short, and Tolbert was inactive during the playoffs. In 2009, Tolbert posted career-high numbers across the board. He amassed a season-high 58 yards rushing and scored his first career rushing touchdown against the Denver Broncos (Week 11). He also caught a career-long 66-yard touchdown pass in early December against the Cleveland Browns (Week 13). Tolbert became a San Diego fan favorite for his celebratory on-the-field dances, becoming known as “The Human Dance Machine.” In addition, Tolbert led the Chargers with 22 special teams tackles.

Tolbert signed a one-year deal with San Diego during the 2010 offseason; the terms of the exclusive-right free-agent deal were not disclosed. Following the departure of Tomlinson (New York Jets), the Chargers drafted much-heralded rookie Ryan Mathews out of Fresno State, and most assumed Mathews was the heir apparent to Tomlinson. It seemed like a reasonable assumption, but Tolbert was quietly sharing first-team reps with Mathews during the preseason. Playing in relief of a struggling and injured Mathews in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tolbert rushed for 82 yards and scored twice. Following the game, Chargers head coach Norv Turner announced that Tolbert would share goal line touches with Mathews going forward. A few days later, Mathews revealed that he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mathews has been unable to practice all week, which leads us to where we are now: Tolbert is expected to start against the Seattle Seahawks.

THE TOLBERT FANTASY FORECAST

Since we’re just coming up on Week 3 and Tolbert has excelled in just one game, this will require some speculation. I think we’re destined to see a thunder-and-lightning duo of Tolbert and Mathews going forward – at least when Mathews is healthy again. Tolbert, an undrafted free agent, has been more productive than Mathews, a first-round pick. Will Mathews continue to struggle? I doubt it – Mathews will settle into the NFL game eventually. If Tolbert continues to play well – and I think he will – Turner obviously will have no choice but to give Tolbert some regular touches each week.

Despite what some fantasy owners believe, Mathews is not a big-play threat or a mega-talent like Tomlinson was back in his prime. Mathews’ best 40-yard dash time was 4.5 seconds, which is good but not great, so splitting touches between the rookie and Tolbert would make sense. If you own Tolbert, hang on to him after Mathews recovers and see how this all plays out. If you own Mathews, don’t give up on him, but dial down your expectations for his fantasy production going forward in 2010.

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