Kevin Price commentary: Russell County's Shaquille Tolbert gets his start at Army

kprice@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 2, 2013 

Hearing former Russell County High football standout Shaquille Tolbert describe a typical day in his life at the U.S. Military Academy is enough to make the listener want to take a nap.

"Wake up at 6 a.m. Take a bus to the football stadium. After a couple of hours of practice, then breakfast.

"Then classes to lunch. After lunch, have an hour off to take a nap, get some work done or meet with teachers.

"Classes until 4. Then team meetings where we watch film or go over the opponent. Then have dinner. Then homework from each class."

All of that hard work paid off for the sophomore last Friday night in Army's season-opener.

The Black Knights' game against Morgan State was three years in the making for Tolbert as his dream of playing college football finally came true.

Tolbert started at strong safety and made a pair of tackles in Army's 28-12 victory.

"It went well, we got the win," Tolbert said in a phone interview Monday morning, ''but we still need to improve."

Tolbert signed to attend the U.S. Military Academy in February 2011 after a stellar career at Russell County. He made the Ledger-Enquirer's All-Bi-City team each of his last two seasons as he compiled nine interceptions, three fumble recoveries and 87 tackles.

Tolbert, who is the first in his family to attend the U.S. Military Academy, spent his first year at the academy's prep school. While he got to play football against some smaller schools, that year also prepared Tolbert for the day-to-day academic and physical workload he would be facing once he arrived at the academy.

He then spent his freshman season on the team watching from the sidelines, which was not easy for Tolbert, especially as he watched the team struggle to a 2-10 record.

"It was difficult at first not playing last year, but then I realized it is not all about me," Tolbert said. "It is about the team."

During last spring's practices, the coaches moved him from cornerback, which he had played since high school, to strong safety.

The change in position gives Tolbert more responsibility on each play as he is not only involved in pass coverage, but now is a key run-stopper as well.

"I still cover a lot," he said. "But now I come down on the run a lot -- play more in the box."

The position change came about as coaches looked for a way to get the talented Tolbert on the field.

"(Shaq) is really playing well," coach Rich Ellerson told Sal Interdonato, who covers Army for the (Hudson Valley) Times Herald-Record. Ellerson also told Interdonato that "Shaq was one of the defense's better players and needs to be out on the field."

Tolbert and the Black Knights will be back on the field Saturday as they play their second game of the season at Ball State.

Kevin Price, 706-320-4493, kprice@ledger-enquirer.com

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