Sunday, April 29, 2007

Grambling greats: Henry Tolbert

GSU has new passing pattern
With Douglas gone, WR stable emerges
August 8, 2004

By Nick Deriso
It will take an army to fill the shoes of departed three-time all-conference receiver Tramon Douglas at Grambling State. Literally.

"Our philosophy this year," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears, "is to play between six and eight guys at wide receiver."

The Tigers report for summer sessions today with a remade coaching staff and a remade secondary. But there may be no more important position to resolve than who will be downfield for quarterback Bruce Eugene, named to the preseason I-AA All America team by The Sports Network.

"I've got to get used to not seeing him out there," Eugene said of Douglas, who hauled in 28 touchdown strikes from Eugene in just two seasons. "He was that safety valve that I always had."

Douglas graduated in May, but not before breaking GSU's single-season receiving records for catches, yards and touchdowns - as well as career receptions.

"He was the heart of what we did last year," said Sammy White, who coached receivers for six seasons before being named offensive coordinator this spring.

Douglas is the only person in Southwestern Athletic Conference history, including such luminaries as Jerry Rice and White himself, to record more than 1,700 receiving yards in a single season.

"There will always be an initial drop-off when you lose a guy like Tramon Douglas," Spears said. "But I think we've got some guys who are going to step up. There's going to be a dog fight at wide receiver."

But losing Douglas isn't the unit's only challenge: Tim Abney, the team's No. 3 receiver last year, hasn't practiced this off-season because of a lingering groin injury. He had six touchdown catches - tied with senior Moses Harris, this year's presumptive No. 1 target.

"Moses had a decent year," White said. "But this year we look for him to break out."

Henry Tolbert will move from running back to Douglas' position in the slot.

"A utility guy," White enthuses. "I can put him outside, too. I can put him in the backfield. He's working hard."

The top receivers going into summer sessions are Harris, transfer Frank Green and freshman Paul Hardiman, who redshirted last year. Talented performers who could quickly push into the top six include junior Bakari Guice, a former Wossman High standout, and Houston-Westbury High signee Clyde Edwards.

"We have a bunch of great receivers," Eugene said, after ticking off the list of hopefuls.

His coach agreed: "We just got a wealth of outstanding wide receivers," Spears said. "So it's going to be great to watch."

GSU's August Agenda
Interim GSU coach Melvin Spears, left, will tell you that winning often comes down to a play or two. He will tell you that one or two moments in its final game of 2003 kept Grambling State from an unprecedented fourth trip to the Southwestern Athletic Conference title game.

"That's correct," he said, looking determined. "That's exactly the way we are approaching this season."

So, he'll tinker with the well-established template left behind by former GSU coach Doug Williams, Spears' mentor. He'll add a flourish, or a feint.

But this is not an out pattern. No, Spears talks about the legacy of his adopted school often, taking as his mantra: "Raising the bar." He repeats it often, adding. "That's all we're going to do."
That means playing within the scheme, with less freelancing. It means balancing the pass and the run, getting out in front - and staying there. It means consistency, from kickoff to finish, from week to week.

Last season, Grambling State would fall behind, only to mount a succession of late-game offensive explosions. It was October before someone other than the quarterback scored a rushing touchdown.

As GSU reports for its first summer sessions in six seasons without Williams, his former offensive coordinator will challenge them to do a little more, and do it a little better:

Camp competition: It wasn't going to be easy replacing senior All-SWAC receiver Tramon Douglas - who led the team in receiving and the conference in all-purpose yardage last year.

Then Tim Abney, a sophomore on the rise, spent the spring and summer trying to recover from a lingering groin injury. That leaves the door open behind senior Moses Harris, who is slated for the No. 1 position. Aaron Johnson, the sophomore out of Shreveport's Huntington High, would presumably move into Abney's No. 2 role, if he sits out. Junior Bakari Guice, freshman Paul Hardiman and sophomore transfer Frank Green will compete there, too. Junior wide receiver Henry Tolbert will start in the slot.

Numbers crunch: Even though Spears has played a larger role on the defensive side this off-season, the assistants have a lot of ground to make up in working with a unit that finished No. 9 out of 10 SWAC school in pass and red-zone defense in 2003.

On the cusp: Senior linebacker Kenneth Pettway excelled after he was called upon to work on the defensive line when injuries felled ends Lennard Patton and Jason Hatcher. That versatility, and his non-stop motor, has him poised for a breakout season.

Instant impact: Clyde Edwards, the receiver out of Houston-Westbury High, has already exhibited the kind of athleticism and polish to start - even as a freshman. "He has shown that, with a little bit of coaching, he could do very well," said GSU offensive coordinator Sammy White. "He's catching everything in sight."

Shallow pool: There has been little consistency in the punting and return game. Freshman punter Larry Anderson from Redemptorist was signed, and could see immediate playing time. There hasn't been a solid returner since Kenneth Shanklin's breakout season a couple of years back. While running back Keantwon Gray looked good in the spring, a deep pool of receiver talent could also be raided to fix this lingering problem.

On the mend: Abney was poised for a breakout season, before a groin injury failed to heal properly. The staff thought resting him through the off-season would help, but Abney's still slowed by the problem. Losing almost 17 yards per reception - or, say, his four-catch, two-touchdown performance against Southern in the 2003 Bayou Classic - would be a crushing blow.

Gone with the wind: Junior backup quarterback Gary Cooper, perhaps tired of waiting for Bruce Eugene to falter, has quit the program. In two seasons, Cooper played in parts of just eight games - with 260 yards passing, two touchdowns and three interceptions. All but 54 of those yards, and both touchdowns, were in 2002.

Camp chatter: "There will always be an initial drop-off when you lose a guy like Tramon Douglas," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears. "But I think we've got some guys who are going to step up. There's going to be a dogfight at wide receiver. The entire secondary was also a focus. Right now, the jobs don't belong to anyone. The best guys after these next 28 days will start."
- Nick Deriso

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Tigers having fun while cruising through SWAC
GSU's loose attitude hasn't hurt win column
November 3, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - The change in attitude for this Grambling State team is palpable.
But is this new sensibility the cause, or the effect, of an undefeated run through the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2005?

GSU coach Melvin Spears isn't prone to philosophical, chicken-or-egg conversations. For him, it's simple.

"I think once all the controversial stuff was over with, regardless if it was about the coach or the record," he said, "the guys started being themselves."

Last November, GSU was staggering to a 3-4 record under the weight of a rash of injuries. The staff, led by an interim coach fighting for his job, led practices with a grim-faced tightness. The players seemed to overcompensate by going through their paces with a bit too much emotion.

These days, Spears runs things with a loose bravado, often giving the playcalling over to senior quarterback Bruce Eugene - even in critical down-and-distance situations.

"This is probably the most fun," Eugene said, "I have ever had playing football."

GSU's assistants - notably the professorial Darnell Wall - run a more controlled practice than those seen last season. Everything about the process exudes a smooth, business-like confidence.

Spears spent a recent practice trying out nicknames for Eugene. "The Round Mound of Touchdown" was an early favorite - until somebody suggested "The Big Easy."

"The Big Easy," he said, slowly and enthusiastically.

"This is probably the most laid-back team I have coached," Spears added. "The national championship teams under Doug Williams were high intensity, uptempo types. This is more of an academic type of team. They come to work and are pretty steady. We don't have a whole lot of rah-rah types."

That's perhaps best personified in senior receiver Henry Tolbert.

"I don't do all that trash talking," said Tolbert, who leads the league in yards per catch and total touchdowns. "Even on the field, I just look at them and smile. After I score my touchdown, I look at them and smile again. I let my stats do the talking."

Not that there isn't talking. There is plenty of it - even on the field during games.

"Big (Jonathan) Banks, I'll have to stop him from rapping in the huddle all the time. You'll see linemen dancing," Eugene said. "(Andre) Bennett (the line's other tackle) is talking about one thing; somebody's always talking about something else."

Eugene sets the stage: Receiver Moses Harris can be found comparing performances, he said. Tight end Tim Abney admits that he's still trying to muscle into the lineup after a year lost to injury.

Running back Ab Kuuan is usually begging for one more chance to run the ball.

In fact, receiver Clyde Edwards might be the only quiet one in the bunch.

"If you could see us in the huddle, it would be the same as having me and Bruce sitting right here talking," said Tolbert, who's known for relentlessly counting his own receiving touchdowns and yards.

"We're so relaxed. Everything is so calm," Tolbert added. "We're cracking jokes. We're really out there having a good time. And that's a direct reflection of what's happening on the field."

Spears thinks the last month of last year was a turning point for this team. GSU finished with three wins in its last four games, including an emotional victory against Southern in the second-ending Bayou Classic.

"Down the stretch last year," Spears said, "everything started falling into place."

Still, such a laissez faire approach might have been questioned at 3-4 in 2004. But with this year's 6-1 mark - the only loss came to a Division I-A opponent - it looks like genius.

The reason for that success, Eugene said, is that the team knows how to have fun, but remains focused.

"As soon as we break the huddle," he said, "everybody knows that we come to the line with a business-like attitude. I look forward to Saturdays."

Setting the table
For all the chatter in the Grambling huddle, quarterback Bruce Eugene says his linemen mostly talk about eating.

Eugene started feeding his line, as a way of showing his appreciation, on Mondays. After throwing for seven touchdowns on three different nights, Eugene is doing it on Tuesdays now, as well.

His mom, living in Lincoln Parish now in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, usually cooks. Occasionally, the group might hit a local eatery.

They're difficult to miss.

Offensive tackle Jonathan Banks "orders two of everything," said Eugene. "Not that I am complaining. The cashiers are always asking him, though: `Who's paying for all this?'"

Receiver Henry Tolbert could be next. He's told the linemen that he would buy them all dinner if he can register 200 receiving yards in a game.

"It's cool," said Eugene. "As long as I keep passing for these kind of yards, I will feed them on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, whenever."
- Nick Deriso,

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Game week focus on...

December 6, 2005

Grambling finished the year with an unblemished conference record, something that hadn't been done since 1989 under former coach Eddie Robinson.

"Our guys are elated about it," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win all of our conference games and go to the championship. That means a whole lot."

GSU (10-1, 9-0 in Southwestern Athletic Conference) plays Alabama A&M on Saturday at Birmingham for the SWAC championship, in a rematch of the 2000 and 2002 title contests.

"In order to win these games," Spears said, "you have to have outstanding players. That's where all the credit goes."

The Tigers enter Saturday's game with the league's leading passer (Bruce Eugene), receiver (Henry Tolbert) and tackler for a loss (Jason Hatcher).

"I sit back and think sometimes about that great season we had in 2002, when Bruce was a sophomore," said Tolbert. "That was the best team I had ever played on, and even then we weren't undefeated."

The 2005 season's 9-0 romp through the SWAC included an average winning margin of 25 points. Grambling's defense gave up less than three TDs each game, while the offense scored more than six.

"We're trying to tear this conference apart," said Eugene. "Years from now, we want people to remember this 2005 team."

Grambling had previously provided information that put the last undefeated SWAC season at 1992, but further research showed GSU lost to Alcorn State during that campaign.

In 1989, Grambling went 9-3 and was spotless in conference play. Grambling won the SWAC championship and, as with this year's team, boasted the conference's offensive player of the year at quarterback, Clemente Gordon.

The `89 season ended when the Tigers lost a heartbreaking 59-56 thriller in the Division I-AA playoffs at Nacogdoches, Texas, against Stephen F. Austin. GSU's only other losses that year were to Howard and Tennessee State.

- Nick Deriso,

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All-SWAC snub fuels WR Tolbert's fire
December 8, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Henry Tolbert went to high school a stone's throw from the venue where the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game will be played this Saturday.
If recent history is any guide, that will again push the senior Grambling State receiver to brilliance.

GSU (10-1, 9-0 in the SWAC) plays Alabama A&M (9-2, 7-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday for the league title at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Classic.

Tolbert, a receiver out of Parker High in Birmingham, is coming off a four-score performance at Alcorn State - he caught three touchdowns and ran for another one - after an insulting second-team all-conference snub earlier in the week.

"I'll put it this way," said Grambling offensive coordinator Sammy White, "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."

Tolbert has led the SWAC in yards per game, yards per catch and scoring since Week 1. He enters this week with 63 catches for 1,207 and 15 touchdowns, averaging a startling 19.2 yards per reception.

What about that says … second team? It hurt.

"Honestly, I did care," Tolbert said. "When the newspaper came out, and I saw it, I was so mad. I did my best to get over it, but once the game got here on Saturday, it was stuck in my mind."
Yes, history means something to Tolbert. That's why he aims to make a similar showing in Birmingham.

Parker High is also the alma mater of Junious "Buck" Buchanan, Grambling's first Pro Football Hall of Famer; All-America defender Andre Robinson, now the linebackers coach at GSU; and Robert Taylor, a legendary sack artist from the Williams championship period.

"That school has meant so much to Grambling over the years, and Tolbert is just another to go along with that long line of great players," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "We call him 'X Factor' because he's often overlooked. But Henry Tolbert can do it all."

Tolbert's uncanny talent is best observed during his runs after the catch - perhaps not surprising for a player pegged by former coach Doug Williams as a running back during the program's most recent SWAC title-winning season in 2002.

Still, by 2003, Tolbert was rushing for 381 yards, while adding 392 receiving yards. He was starting to establish himself as a difference maker on the other end of passing plays.

A disciplined, not-overly showy style of play continues to disguise an emerging talent. After all, even last year, when a freshman quarterback led GSU's attack and a nagging hip injury, he caught 29 balls and averaged 19.4 yards per catch. Tolbert had game-changing performances against Prairie View and Jackson State.

By 2005, he was doing things that recalled Grambling greats like Trumaine Johnson and Tramon Douglas.

Of 11 games played so far this season, Tolbert has had 90 or more receiving yards in nine of them. Though he only had three catches for 35 yards against Division I-AA opponent Washington State, one of those receptions was GSU's only score of the day.

Second team?

"It's hard to pick on me, because most things don't really bother me," said Tolbert. "But when I'm in a situation like that, where I feel like someone is trying to take something from me that I think is mine, that's a pet peeve."

It's true: Tolbert, with a smile that could light up a stadium, is mostly an easy-going type. That might have contributed to his being relegated to the All-SWAC second team - despite being just the fourth Grambling receiver ever to gain 2,000 in receiving yards. Those 1,207 yards this season are second all time for a single campaign, and Tolbert still has the title match to play.

"The stats he has already are unbelievable," said White, himself an all-conference receiver for former GSU coach Eddie Robinson. "He has a chance to be Grambling's all-time leading receiver in just about every category. It's funny, he kind of sneaks up on you."

That's how Tolbert arrived in Lorman, Miss., to face Alcorn State last week, silent but with a chip on his shoulder. Heck, it was more like a bag of chips.

"The coaches said: 'The eyes can't lie,'" Tolbert said. "They knew. They could look at me and tell that I had blood in my eyes. That was the motivation for the kind of output I had last weekend. I was really ticked."

That translated into consecutive scoring receptions of 6-, 12- and 35-yards beginning in the second quarter to put the game away against Alcorn, along with an earlier 5-yard rushing touchdown.

"I couldn't," Tolbert said, "have responded any better."

Nobody's expecting anything less this week from Grambling's most consistent receiver.
After all, the last time he faced A&M, Tolbert had four catches for 174 yards - including a gut-check 70-yard touchdown reception.

"You are playing before your home crowd, your family," said White. "He wants to have a great game, and we all know what he did last time."

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Records, A&M fall
GSU comes alive in 3rd for a dominating finish
December 11, 2005

By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The third quarter would decide this championship.

Alabama A&M had expertly followed Coach Anthony Jones' script through two quarters, slowing down this Southwestern Athletic Conference title match. GSU only had the ball four times, and managed just two early scores.

That left a slim 12-6 lead as the bands played.

And Grambling coach Melvin Spears looking for answers.

He called it nerves, noting as he came off the field that quarterback Bruce Eugene and safety Jermaine Mills were the only players left from the Tigers' 2002 championship team.

"We'll settle down," he said. "They've just got to come out and play Tiger football."

Grambling had turnovers to begin and end the first half, and a rash of penalties to boot.

The jittery start painted the picture of a team that had overthought the game. Ironically, that was precisely what might have been expected of Alabama A&M - which, after all, arrived three weeks removed from its last contest.

The day had essentially been played to a draw, with the momentum tilted A&M's way since the Bulldogs' goal was to keep record-smashing senior quarterback Bruce Eugene off the field.

"I was upset with the way we played in the first half," said Eugene, who missed last season after suffering a knee injury. "I wanted to come out in the third quarter and press the issue."

Now, there were signs that Grambling could stay loose enough to mount a late-game surge.
Running back Ab Kuuan and returner Landry "Blue" Carter, looking happy and confident, pretended to direct the Tiger Marching Band in its pre-game rendition of "Neck." Line coach Larry Metevia was busy recreating a familiar sight from Grambling's home locker room, the word "WIN" spelled out in trainer tape.

Even so, this third quarter will remain a moment of blinding artistry, a withering 15 minutes of football.

Grambling, see, ran just 16 plays.

And scored 28 points.

"We talked it over," said junior GSU cornerback Greg Fassitt. "We knew we could win the game if we came back out and played hard for the rest of the game."

As the period began, GSU made a quick stop. Eugene then directed a two-play, 63-yard drive to push the Grambling lead to 13. Both passes were caught by senior Henry Tolbert, a Birmingham native who would score three more times.

Next was another three and out for the Bulldogs.

Three plays later, Eugene hit George Piggott for a 41-yard touchdown pass to complete a 60-yard drive.

Just that quickly, GSU led by 19.

"The first half, we had all kind of mental errors," said Kuuan, who had scored a gutty touchdown on fourth-and-goal. "We came out in the third quarter and just executed."

Executed A&M, anyway.

A pass interference call on Grambling, another in the seemingly endless trail of yellow flags, helped A&M convert a third down on its subsequent drive. But consecutive holding calls on the Bulldogs stalled that effort, too.

"We didn't change all the much after halftime," said GSU senior defensive end Jason Hatcher. "We just kept hitting them in the mouth. We knew from playing them the first time that they would lay down."

Eugene then threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Reginald Jackson, another Birmingham native, to cap the next GSU scoring drive. Neville High product Tim Abney added a two-point conversion catch.

Another GSU stop came next. Then another Eugene touchdown pass, again to Tolbert - who broke the school's single-season record for touchdowns in a season.

Grambling was suddenly ahead by 33 unanswered points.

And all of that was before Eugene's fourth-quarter TD pass, also to Tolbert, broke former Mississippi Valley quarterback Willie Totten's once-thought unassailable SWAC and NCAA record of 139 career touchdowns.

Grambling would win 45-6, beating Alabama A&M for a third time in the seven times the SWAC title game has been played.

Conference officials, with 45 seconds left in regulation, hustled the championship trophy down the Grambling sideline for the postgame presentation.

Decorum may have required it, but they needed not wait. This thing had been over since Grambling emerged from the locker room.

With 20 seconds left, the team let go - dancing and singing: G-S! G-S! G-S... U! I thought you knew!"

After 11 victories in 2005, five of which featured 50 or more Grambling points, they know now.
Jones, in a hallway deep inside Legion Field, was still marveling over Eugene's staggering feat when he came across Spears.

The two men shook hands, and Jones - who beat GSU for the first time in five tries last year while Eugene was out - said: "You better not bring him back again."

Both of them laughed softly.

Outside, a fan rolled up a sign that read: "Play Grambling, Get 50."

Not quite. But good enough for a title.

GSU's season of SWAC dominance would end as it began. Alabama A&M lost to Grambling, in games played three months apart, by a combined score of 89-6.

As the team streamed into the locker room, there was no champagne, only shaken-up Coca-Cola showering down on Spears.

It was just as sweet.

The players, wearing new championship hats and shirts, broke into a raucous rendition of the old-time gospel favorite "This Little Light of Mine."

That third quarter had let them shine.

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Tolbert set for record year
Grambling receiver could break all-time school marks
August 22, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — When senior Grambling State receiver Henry Tolbert caught two crucial passes on Saturday — including one for the scrimmage's only touchdown — he underscored just how he operates.

Quiet, even amiable, and clutch to a fault.

"That's his nature," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "Don't sleep on Henry. We call him the 'Silent Assassin.'"

Nobody had more touchdowns, total yards, receptions or yards-per-catch than Tolbert last year. Yet he only received second-team all-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors.

The SWAC Championship Game against Alabama A&M was held the Saturday after the team was announced. Tolbert was critical to GSU's big win — scoring 24 points, setting SCG records for receiving and overall touchdowns and tying a record for total points scored by an individual in the contest.

That the game was played in Birmingham, Ala., Tolbert's hometown, only made the understated revenge sweeter. Grambling opens its 2006 season right back at Legion Field, this time facing Hampton in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge on Sept. 2.

"I'm very excited about the chance to go back and prove myself again," said Tolbert, who had 30 family members in attendance last December. "How could I not be?"

As the team warmed up for the scrimmage on Saturday, running backs Ab "Killer" Kuuan and Landry "Blue" Carter were talking the typical trash — sending several players into hysterics.

You could find Tolbert nearby, fiddling with a new mouthpiece, then still and determined.

He's had a busy summer, dropping from 208 to a sculpted 195 — adding muscle while going from 4 to 2 percent body fat — and earned his undergraduate degree.

"Being in better shape is what we need from Henry so that we can use him all over the field," Spears said.

And use him, they will.

Tolbert has returned to his familiar slot alignment, but has also shown up in some surprising places, including as a punt returner.

"We want to utilize his talent in every way possible," Spears said.

That will perhaps offset what could be a dip in touches for Tolbert as part of a unit that returns a 1,000-yard receiver in Clyde Edwards and picked up lightning-quick Georgia Tech transfer LaKeldrick "Burner" Bridges.

Spears disagrees, countering: "People won't be able to combo him as much. I don't see his production falling off."

That was true Saturday, when Tolbert led all Grambling receivers in yards — pulling down passes for nine and 21 yards (to score) in the offense's final and most successful drive.

That it took so long didn't faze Tolbert: "We won't see a defense as good as ours all year," he said.

Tolbert, a graduate student now with a championship ring, enters the season with some as-yet-unattained goals.

Even though he lost ground while spelling at running back as a younger player, Tolbert sits just 838 yards behind Scotty Anderson as GSU's all-time leader in receiving yards. He needs seven touchdowns to best Anderson for career scores, and 55 catches to pass Anderson as Grambling's all-time receptions leader.

Tolbert has doubled his yardage every year since switching to wideout, finishing with 1,400 yards and 19 scores in 2005. His three-year average is 45 catches, 782 yards and nine touchdowns per season.

"When they asked me to move to receiver during my sophomore year, it was an easy transition because I knew everything the position offered," said Tolbert. "It was foresight on their part because they saw me as a wide receiver and when they called my number, I was ready."

Tolbert had been a highly recruited rusher out of Parker High, where he played for current GSU linebacker coach Andre Robinson. But a late-career hip injury sent several programs, including Auburn, elsewhere.

"Andre thought a whole lot of him," Spears said. "He was a guy we really wanted. But we never pictured him as a running back."

Tolbert would have to bulk up, for one thing. He arrived on campus with decent height at 6-feet tall, but weighing a slight 165 pounds.

"It was a matter of working on his body structure," Spears said, "and then infusing him into our system."

While recognition from his home league has been slow in coming, Tolbert has garnered a string of national honors — something that could position him for a shot at playing pro ball.

Tolbert was named the No. 4 receiver in Division I-AA by Matt Dougherty of The Sports Network, and earned first-time preseason I-AA All America honors from Don Hansen's Football Gazette. He was also named a second-team All America receiver by The Sports Network and Lindy's Magazine.

"He has the ability to play at the next level," Spears said, "if he plays sound football, remains the team player he's always been. The rest will work its way out. What he's thinking about now is Hampton and going back to Birmingham."

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Tolbert hopes to spark GSU
Senior receiver wants to help team return to winning ways
October 19, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Injured senior Grambling receiver Henry Tolbert is almost there.

He hopes his team is, too.

"I feel pretty good," he said. "A lot better than I did last week."

Tolbert ran full speed on Wednesday night, just days after non football-related surgery caused him to miss several practices.

The time away, Tolbert said, gave him new perspective. One of the most important things he said he's seeing is an emerging will to succeed.

That comes in the wake of a player's-only meeting Tolbert called to sort out what has gone wrong in this disappointing 2-4 campaign. He said he made sure to focus on the team concept.

"We talked about accountability," Tolbert said. "It wasn't about pointing fingers, but trying to get better."

GSU coach Melvin Spears agrees that the squad needs to build more of that internal chemistry.

"They're still looking for that coach-on-the-field guy," he said. "Those young guys at quarterback are still transitioning into that. That's why we as coaches need to consistently hone in on who wants to be a champion and make sure we get them on the field."

The team, Tolbert said, came away with a strong sense of purpose, along with the firm belief that it can get on a run and return to the conference championship game. That begins with a 3 p.m. Saturday contest against the undefeated, Eastern Division-leading Jackson State.

"I haven't seen this kind of focus and intensity yet all year," said Tolbert.

Spears seemed to agree, saying again and again in the post-practice huddle on Wednesday: "Way to work."

Tolbert attempted to play Saturday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but ended up as more of a decoy than legitimate threat. At what he estimated as "60-to-65 percent," Tolbert caught just one pass for 17 yards but drew some attention from the Lions' defense.

His presence freed junior receiver Clyde Edwards for a 10-catch day. Edwards finished with 145 yards and two scores in the losing effort for GSU.

"I just wanted to do whatever I could to help us win," he said.

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GSU's prospects perhaps undrafted, but not undaunted
April 27, 2007

By Nick Deriso
Grambling State’s graduated seniors can take solace if they go unselected in the NFL Draft.

Two of the program’s most famous football products, Willie Brown and Everson Walls, went undrafted — and both found their way to multiple Pro Bowls. Brown even made the Hall of Fame.

Players like GSU receiver Henry Tolbert and running back Ab Kuuan understand that they might be following the same uphill path.

“I’ve talked to a few scouts, but it’s hard to tell if there is any real interest,” said Kuuan. “All I can do is sit back and wait.”

If Grambling's departing seniors don’t hear their names this weekend, it will be the first time that’s happened since 2004. Last year, defender Jason Hatcher was a third-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys; Kenneth Pettway was taken on the second day of the 2005 draft by the Houston Texans.

Kuuan and Tolbert both received one-star ratings from, but are unranked in their respective draft categories on the site.

Tony McClean of the Black Athlete Sports Network, listed Kuuan and Tolbert as one of black college football’s Top 8 pre-season draft prospects, while’s Gil Brandt also included Tolbert as one of just 14 non-Division I-A players in his pre-season watch list.

But both had off years as Grambling slipped to 3-8 in 2006.

Tolbert had 48 catches and 730 yards (with just four touchdowns) last season, after a career-best 74 receptions, 1,391 yards and 19 scores as a junior.

By the end of a disappointing season, had dropped the converted running back to a “camp prospect.” Sports Illustrated predicts that he will become an undrafted free agent, but said Tolbert “has the skills necessary to be a fifth receiver at the next level.”

Louisiana football analyst Mike Detillier of Raceland has Tolbert ranked as the No. 61 available receiver in the draft.

Through he perhaps lacks an ideal burst, Tolbert had tirelessly worked to improve, nearly doubling his receiving production every successive year — logging 391 yards in 2003 and then 563 in 2004 before his breakout ’05 campaign. As a junior, Tolbert set a new school record for receiving touchdowns in a season with 20 — surpassing Eric Gant’s 19 scores, a mark which had stood for 13 years.

“He has only been playing the receiver position for three years and he has yet to reach his full potential,” according to the Louisiana-based “Tolbert is a versatile player who could project as a running back or receiver at the next level. He has a good deal of upside and should be a second day pick.”

Kuuan, meanwhile, led Grambling in rushing for four consecutive seasons, but similarly slipped from 891 yards as a junior to 551 last year. reported Kuuan’s time in the 40-yard dash at 4.77 seconds and then 4.71 seconds. A solid performance in the North-South All-Star Classic postseason showcase, where Kuuan ran five times for 26 yards, helped him to recognition as a sleeper pick on several draft sites.

“Kuuan runs hard and strong, however he’s more of an inside runner who struggles at times to turn the corner and pick up speed,” McClean said. “He has the size to play at the pro level, but must work hard to improve on his blocking.”

Pro Football Weekly has Kuuan listed as the No. 46 available running back. Detillier has him at No. 33.

Allen Trieu of lists Tolbert as the No. 21 small-school draft sleeper, with GSU offensive lineman Andre Bennett at No. 27 and Kuuan at No. 35. Cornerback Greg Fassitt, linebacker David Hicks and fullback Ruben Mayes may also have performed well enough for scouts to warrant some attention.

In fact, Fassitt’s 4.36 40-time was ranked as the 11th fastest in the nation by

“I’m hoping to get drafted,” said Mayes, a former Tennessee transfer who ranked No. 42 among available fullbacks on “If not, then I’ll get into someone’s camp.”

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