While all eyes have been focused on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and his Denver Broncos counterpart Peyton Manning in today’s Super Bowl 50, there is another player set to make history.
Former Douglas County fullback Mike Tolbert, who plays the same position for the Panthers, is the first player in county history to play in the NFL championship game.
The eight-year, two-time NFL Pro Bowler is expected to see significant playing time this evening when the Panthers take on Denver in the 6:30 p.m. game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“It is really touching to see him get the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl,” said Phil Williams, the former Douglas County High coach. “I’m so proud of him for not only reaching the Super Bowl, but reaching his dream of being a professional football player. It is a big day for us.”
And for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers were chasing NFL history after getting off to a 14-0 start before losing its only game so far against the Atlanta Falcons. The 1972 Miami Dolphins team is the only NFL team to go undefeated throughout the entire season.
Tolbert starred four years at NCAA Div. I Football Championship Subdivision school Coastal Carolina before making the San Diego Chargers as a free agent. In 2012, the 245-pounder signed with the Carolina Panthers.
He plays a position that is consistently going out of style in the NFL because not many teams use the fullback in their offensive schemes.
The Panthers use the fullback, and Tolbert has been a good fit. In making the Pro Bowl roster, Tolbert rushed for 256 yards and had 154 receiving yards while combining for four touchdowns.
“There’s not a lot of us,” Tolbert said during Super Bowl press conference. “We pride ourselves on being able to do more than just one thing. More than just block, we like to catch the ball, we like to run the ball, we pass-protect, we do it all — even on special teams. I think that’s what has kept me around so long, but I hope it keeps me around for a lot longer.”
Tolbert has been a valuable asset in the Panthers high-octane offense that features NFL MVP candidate Cam Newton, a former standout at nearby Westlake High in southwest Atlanta.
The Panthers led the NFL with 526 rushing attempts. In a league that features the pass, the Panthers definitely buck the trend with its pounding rushing attack.
“I think every team in the league wants to establish a run game,” Tolbert said. “We’ve just do it a little bit better. We like the fact that people know we’re going to run the ball and we can run the ball.”
While Williams calls Tolbert opportunity to play in the Super Bowl a lifetime experience, he said it will be an example for other kids in the county.
“He is an example for a lot of people in the county,” Williams said. “He shows them that you can exceed. He is a great example on the field and off. He is one of the leaders of one of the best teams in the NFL. When he got the opportunity, he took advantage of it.”
For his NFL career, which started with the San Diego Chargers, Tolbert has 2,217 career rushing yards and 33 touchdown with an addition 190 receptions for 1,689 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His other Pro Bowl appearance came in 2013 when he finished with 361 rushing yards and five touchdowns and 27 receptions for 184 yards and a pair of scores.
While his contract is up at the end of the season, Tolbert told the Charlotte Observer that he wants to return to the Panthers.
“Absolutely,” Tolbert said. “We’ll take care of all the business aspects of my contract after the season. I would love to stay, but you never know what happens. We’ll see.
“These guys are my brothers. I don’t want to leave anymore than the next guy. But I have to do what’s best for my family and for me. If moving is part of it, then that’s a part of it. But I don’t want to.”