Thomas Arensberg, the McGill-Toolen receivers coach when Jalen Tolbert played for the Yellow Jackets, had an announcement to make Friday morning when the school held a program honoring Tolbert for his college career and his selection to play in Saturday’s Reese’s Senior Bowl.
“He wasn’t very good,” Arensberg said of his evaluation of Tolbert as a freshman member of the McGill team. Arensberg went on to point out that Tolbert was well down the depth chart that season on a team with strong depth at wide receiver.
“He jumped offsides all the time and that class was loaded with talent — guys who got drafted, Division 1 and non-Division 1 football players on the team,” Arensberg said. “He was just another guy on the team, is how I would describe him. … I figured that his sophomore year he would give up football … but he stuck it out.”
As a junior, Tolbert stepped in to replace another player at a 7-on-7 competition and began to shine — in a big way. From that moment on, Arensberg said, Tolbert was a team leader and his talent continued to improve.
“Keep working and this is what you can become,” Arensberg told other students and athletes on hand for the ceremony.
Others offered similar stories about Tolbert and his time at McGill. Baseball coach Tim Becker said Tolbert always came to practice with a smile on his face and the determination to get better every day. Basketball coach Phillip Murphy noted Tolbert’s patience, saying he continued to work hard every day in practice, always did what he was asked to do and paid his dues.
It was almost five years to the day Tolbert had taken part in another ceremony at the school — signing a grant-in-aid to play for South Alabama. He had made the decision to sign with Michigan State, but on signing day changed his mind and decided to stay in Mobile and play for the Jaguars. He became the school’s all-time leading receiver and set numerous records while grabbing the attention of NFL scouts.
“Somebody told me to be comfortable and I felt comfortable here,” Tolbert said Friday, recalling the late decision to sign with South Alabama. “I didn’t know what I was going to get into up there (Michigan State) and I wasn’t sure they were going to let me play baseball, and that’s something I wanted to try and do early on in college. A lot of stuff played into the decision of staying home and playing at South.
“I think I grew the most that I could grow down here at South. Me staying here and having to deal with the adversities that I went through, the coaching staff changes and everything, I think it made me better. It made me a better man and humbled me in certain ways and allowed me to continue to grow in the process.”
Saturday, Tolbert will be a member of the American team in the Senior Bowl, being played on his home field, South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium.
“It’s been an exciting week, definitely a blessing,” Tolbert aid of his Senior Bowl experience. “I’ve had a lot of fun, whether it was learning the playbooks or working with other guys from Mobile and other guys from all around, it’s been an exciting, fun week. Looking at it from the outside in, you never knew what to expect, you just knew it was a good opportunity. To actually live it, is definitely a blessing.
“I think I’ve done pretty well this week. I think I’ve shown that I can play with the best of the best and shown that I could be consistent; that was one of the things that was questioned. I’ve been able to get out there and make a handful of plays and hopefully I can continue to do that.”
As for the ceremony Friday morning that included a highlight film showing some of his plays from both McGill and South Alabama, Tolbert said he was humbled by the attention.
“It’s pretty cool. I grew up here and went to McGill. Now that they’re honoring me. It’s a fun day,” he said.
Tolbert is one of four McGill players who have participated in the Senior Bowl, joining Tony Ezell, Ito Smith and William Carroll.
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