Tolbert becomes two-time champ

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 25, 1999

Centreville Academy senior Matthew Tolbert had no idea he would be the Tigers’ No. 1 tailback until the first game of the season. There was no doubt about it by the end of the season. Tolbert rushed for 2,561 yards on 326 carries to help lead Centreville to its second straight MPSA&160;Class 3A state championship.

For his efforts, Tolbert is the 1999 Natchez Democrat Area Player of the Year.

Tolbert started at defensive back and played wide receiver last year for the 14-0 Tigers.

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&uot;We didn’t know who was going to start the first game at tailback until the game itself,&uot; Tolbert said.

Tolbert certainly adapted the best.

Tolbert had just over 100 yards in the Tigers’ season-opening 15-10 loss to Oak Forest.

Then came a 186-yard effort in a 42-20 win over Central Private and a 142-yard effort against Adams Christian in a 41-8 win.

Tolbert had 177 yards on the ground in a win over Columbia the following week.

&uot;It was hard at first, but the more games we played the more I got used to it,&uot; Tolbert said. &uot;I learned how to cut off my blocks and where to go. I was feeling more comfortable.&uot;

Tolbert had the tough task of filling the shoes of Derek Tate, last year’s Area Player of the Year, who rushed for 2,047 yards for the unbeaten Tigers.

Tate had the luxury of running behind Justin and Mitch Sawyer, both of whom graduated with Tate.

&uot;I thought we could win state, but I knew it would be a lot harder,&uot; Tolbert said. &uot;I knew we had new starters. I had some big shoes to fill, but that didn’t really matter as long as we won. I didn’t think we would be 14-0, but I thought we could still be the best.&uot;

Tolbert saved one of his best efforts for the South State championship when he carried the ball 50 times for 371 yards, scoring on runs of 73, 32 and 14 yards.

&uot;I wasn’t even thinking about being tired because my adrenaline was pumping and I was all pumped up,&uot;&160;Tolbert said. &uot;I was just going to do what I had to do for us to win. But I couldn’t have done any of it without the offensive line.&uot;

This was one week after gaining 297 yards on the ground in a first round win over Leake.

He scored all three Tiger touchdowns in a 20-19 win over Heritage for the championship. The Tigers finished 11-3.

Tolbert had more than 200 all-purpose yards in the contest.

&uot;Just to get back there was great,&uot; he said. &uot;It still hasn’t really sunk in.&uot;

Tolbert credits his accomplishments in football to the Centreville coaching staff.

&uot;They are the best coaches, especially Coach (Bill) Hurst,&uot; Tolbert said. &uot;He is the greatest high school coach. He always had us prepared and we knew everything we were supposed to do.&uot;

Tolbert was named most valuable player in the South’s win over the North in the Academy All-Star Game.

Despite his accomplishments on the gridiron, Tolbert is looking to play baseball in college.

The shortstop/centerfielder batted .444 last year.

&uot;Everybody’s telling me I can probably go farther in baseball,&uot; he said.