That’s OK with him. Tolbert is getting noticed these days for something more important: Work with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
“That’s how I’ve been giving back,” said Tolbert, who was president of the group as a senior at Grambling. “It’s great to see the response I’ve been getting from the students. For them to know who I am, and the things that I accomplished, is one thing. But I’m doing something right now with an even greater purpose. That means a lot.”
Tolbert finished college with 182 receptions for 3,075 yards and 32 touchdowns — including a school-record 20 scores as a junior. A gritty former running back, the Birmingham, Ala., native also had 300 career rushing yards.
Post-college, Tolbert spent time in training camps with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and AFL’s Orlando Predators before a brief career with the af2’s Mahoning Valley Thunder.
“I always knew that (ministry work) would be the end product for me,” Tolbert told me, “though I didn’t expect it to come so soon. I pictured that I would go and play ball for a while. But it took a hold of me while I was playing arena ball. I started a Bible study group, and that was a tipping point.”
Now, he’s working with a couple of area church-based youth groups, and expanding his efforts across the community. “Doors are starting to open,” Tolbert said.
A disciplined, not-overly showy style of play – not to mention having played during a period of remarkable offensive pyrotechnics – always seemed to obscure both Tolbert’s talent and, now, his legacy at Grambling.
Former head coach Melvin Spears used to call Tolbert “X Factor” – “because he’s often overlooked; but Henry Tolbert can do it all,” Spears told me.
Of 12 games played during Grambling’s 2005 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship season, Tolbert had 90 or more receiving yards in 10 of them.
That helped him become just the fourth Grambling ever to gain 2,000 career yards. He was second all-time for yards in a single campaign that year, too.
But Tolbert was part of a dizzying run of record-breaking receivers at Grambling. Tramon Douglas eclipsed Jerry Rice’s single-season SWAC mark for receiving yards in 2003. Clyde Edwards then passed Douglas in the Grambling record book for career receptions, set a new GSU record for career touchdowns, and overtook Scotty Anderson as the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards in 2007.
Sitting in the middle of that memorable period of dominance by air was Tolbert, who finished his junior season on a sizzling pace.
He came into the 2005 SWAC Championship Game – played at Legion Field, just a stone’s throw from his high school – with something to prove: Tolbert had been handed an insulting second-team all conference snub just before the season finale at Alcorn State.
That, despite leading the SWAC in yards per game, yards per catch and scoring since Week 1. He entered the title match that year already boasting 63 catches for 1,207 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging a startling 19.2 yards per reception.
Stung, Tolbert went to work.
“The coaches said: ‘The eyes can’t lie,'” he told me, back then. “They knew. They could look at me and tell that I had blood in my eyes. That was the motivation. I was really ticked.”
Having already reeled off four touchdowns a week before in Lorman, Miss., three receiving and one on the ground, Tolbert proceeded to score four more times in a dominating 45-6 win over Alabama A&M for a home-cooked title.
“I’ll put it this way,” Grambling assistant Sammy White said, “he felt he should have been on the first team. Now, he didn’t say anything about it. He just got more focused. By Saturday, he was a man possessed.”
Along the way, Tolbert topped a school mark for scores in a single year by Eric Gant that had stood for 13 seasons.
Tolbert still relishes that moment. Still, where you go after establishing that platform of success, he said, is what matters.
“This new recognition is coming for what I am doing now, not just for the past,” he added. “That’s one of the gratifying things about stepping out into a new arena, and walking on your own two feet. It’s not just about those old accomplishments.”