For Jonelle Tolbert, life these days is a roller coaster of
pleasure and pain, struggle and triumph, dejection and
Tolbert is a college football player, but on a mission to
play pro ball.
But wanting to follow in the footsteps of his father Emanuel, an
11-year CFL veteran who won a Grey Cup with the Argos in 1983, is
something that doesn’t just happen by snapping his fingers.
An exceptional athlete with deceptive speed, Tolbert is a wide
receiver on a York University team that has struggled
with one of the worst records in the country.
Still, there is no quit in this 24-year-old – and there won’t be
this afternoon when the mighty University of Western Ontario
Mustangs (5-1) roll in to town to play the Lions (0-6) at York
When he’s feeling depressed, usually after a loss, Tolbert only
has to think about a woman he admires – his 66-year-old
Never short on advice, including critiquing his game, she has
been unable to see him play because of battles with kidney disease
and breast cancer.
“I play for my grandmother – she has gone through a great deal
and is my inspiration,” said Tolbert. “She has shown me not to give
up, keep forging ahead, because good things will come.”
Despite being recruited by university coaches across Canada,
and now a third-year sociology student hoping to become a high
school teacher, Tolbert chose to go to York just to remain in his
“As a team, people can see that we’re struggling,” said Tolbert,
a former Peel Region high school all-star while at St. Marin
“We’ll get through the growing pains on the field but there are
other things, like your family, that can also affect you.”
York has had another disappointing season and while McGill (0-6)
is also winless, the Lions clearly have the worst record among the
25 CIS teams. The Lions have scored the fewest points (59) and
given up the most (288).
One of the bright spots has been the play of Tolbert, who has 30
receptions for 418 yards, third best in the OUA. He has also scored
two of York’s six offensive touchdowns, one on a pretty 61-yard
pass-and-run play from Darren Frank in a 61-15 loss to Windsor.
Frustrated at York’s inability to produce a winning program,
Tolbert refuses to get into discussions with people taking issue
with the Lions’ poor offensive showing.
With a York team riding a 25-game losing streak, the Lions also
haven’t been to the post-season playoffs since a 54-18 quarterfinal
loss to Western six years ago.
“He’s such a competitor,” said York head coach Warren Craney.
“You want guys like him on your team because you know he’s one you
can count on to get the job done.”
Tolbert is aware that the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats and
Saskatchewan Roughriders, who like his speed, are interested.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Tolbert, who didn’t play
last year because he didn’t have the required number of credits.
“It was my (CFL) draft year – and I didn’t get a chance to play.
This season, things have been much better.”