This post contains affiliate links. “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
FRISCO, Texas – Last July, Jalen Tolbert could never have imagined that his trip to The Star was a precursor to his future with the Dallas Cowboys.
The recipient and some friends were just visiting his buddy, Bubba Thompson, an outfielder in the Texas Rangers farm system, who played mostly across the street from the Cowboys’ facility for the Frisco RoughRiders. They stood on the grass field outside the Ford Center and watched the highlights of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott play on a loop.
“It’s always been a goal to be able to play at the highest level, whatever the sport was, football or baseball,” said Thompson, who was Tolbert’s quarterback at McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile, Alabama, and is now with Rangers’ Triple-A subsidiary in Round Rock, Texas. “We are working on playing at the highest level. Any team would be great, but it’s crazy that he got a chance to go to the Cowboys. It’s pretty nice.”
Thompson was Rangers ‘first-round pick in 2017, while Tolbert was the Cowboys’ third-round pick last month, but their pursuit of their pro-sports dream began in the same way: constant days and nights of running routes, throwing passes, lifting weights , take swings in the cage and train in the sand to improve their strength and speed.
“We’ve always been like that,” Thompson said. “We try to be the best. That’s what the best do. Just have to be prepared. It’s not just coming to you.”
Tolbert did not play football until his second year of high school. He was more of a baseball player, like Thompson, and even attended a private training session for Rangers held in Atlanta. But he got hooked on football and jokingly said he had more problems with the slider than the curveball. He caught 14 passes on 135 yards as a junior in high school. As a senior, with Thompson as his quarterback, he caught 37 passes for 696 yards and nine touchdowns, making it all the way to the State 7A Championship.
He was far from a sure view. He received interest from Michigan State, but chose to stay close to his home in South Alabama during the Sun Belt Conference. In four years, he set school records in receptions (178), yards (3,140), touchdown receptions (22) and 100-yard games (10).
It’s work he started with Thompson and continues now that you’ve got him to this point. At the Cowboys’ recent rookie briefing, he was the last player to leave the field and catch passes from the Jugs machine.
“I feel like you have to do more than everyone else if you want to be taller or better than everyone else,” Tolbert said. “You basically have to get what you put in so you get 1% better every day. I’m looking to put that extra work in so it can come back to me on the back.”
I have also sought knowledge from others. I’ve seen YouTube highlights from Julio Jones, Davante Adams and even CeeDee Lamb, one of his new teammates.
In the summer leading up to his final college season, Tolbert went to the Senior Bowl offices and met with its CEO, Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout.
“For the last year and a half, he’s really prepared himself as a professional,” Nagy said. “I think that was what made him different in this receiving class. I can attest to that. I can feel really good about saying that Jalen will really be able to hit the ground. I really dived into the tape studio part of it. “
Tolbert especially looked at Tennessee cornerback Alontae Taylor, knowing he would need a big game to answer questions about playing against better competition. He caught seven passes for 143 yards against the Volunteers last season.
But Nagy also separated some of Tolbert’s games.
“We’re watching my Southern Miss fight and he’s saying to me, ‘Hey, I think right here you can take one more revolution. You can do this and maybe get a little bit more separation, “Tolbert said.” I take it from him, I can put my game into practice and work on it. “
After meeting with Nagy, he trained with former NFL receiver Yo Murphy in Florida, where he spent time with other current NFL receivers. Perhaps an even bigger advantage for Tolbert was Major Applewhite, who became South Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2021 after two years as an analyst in Alabama.
Applewhite brought the Alabama offense over, and Tolbert found himself studying recipients Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith.
“So I saw how they maneuvered and how they set out to win on routes,” said Tolbert, who finished with 1,474 yards and eight touchdowns on 82 receptions as a senior.
For the first time, Tolbert lined up outside and inside and moved around the formation. It opened his eyes more to the complete picture of a misdemeanor, and the Cowboys feel confident that he will be able to line up wherever they need him.
After the Cowboys drafted him, Tolbert said Prescott sent him a playbook.
“He immediately tries to get every piece of material he can get and grab everything,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “We are like, ‘We will take this day by day. But you can see that he wants (to learn) and appreciates it. You will win in this league with all the details. ”
With receiver Michael Gallup recovering from a torn anterior ligament in his left knee, the Cowboys will need Tolbert to be productive, especially early in the season. It’s a great request from any beginner, especially from a smaller school, but one they feel comfortable making.
“Honestly, one of the things he did a lot of in our first conversation was that he’s pretty young for the football game,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He hasn’t played much football. For me, it’s exciting. Using his words, he said, ‘I don’t know how high my ceiling is going to be, but I think it’s going to be pretty high.’ I thought, “Oh, yes, you can see that.”