York star finds inspiration at home;Ailing grandmother drives Lions receiver to excel on 0-6 Lions

For Jonelle Tolbert, life these days is a roller coaster of

pleasure and pain, struggle and triumph, dejection and


Tolbert is a


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

Saturday when the mighty

University of Western Ontario

Mustangs (5-1) roll into town to play the Lions (0-6) at York


When he’s feeling down after a loss, Tolbert only has to think

about a woman he admires – his 66-year-old grandmother,


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 from all 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 Mississauga home.

“As a team, people can see that we’re struggling,” said Tolbert,

a former Peel Region high school all-star while at St. Marin

Secondary. “We’ll get through the growing pains on the field but

there are other things, like your family, that can also affect


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

quarter-final 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.”