It was all smiles last week in the “Hawks Nest” at Miami Springs Senior High School
Two weeks to the day after many college football athletes enjoyed their “moment in the sun” signing scholarships from big schools to small schools, there JaRé Tolbert sat at a table by himself, parents Jacqueline and Victor Alvarez sitting to each side of him and Springs football coach Darryel Bethune standing behind all of them.
Fourteen days after suffering through bitter and major disappointment, Tolbert signed on the dotted line to take his football, and academic talents to Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
With a big ceremony all set to go at the school that morning, (Feb. 5) Tolbert, a 6-1, 260 lb. defensive end, showed up on signing day hoping that a fax form from FIU would be forthcoming announcing they would be extending him an offer. Hoping that he, along with his other teammates, Malik Thomas, Leo Ruiz, Davonta Marshall and Bobby Stinson would be able to celebrate.
But there would be no fax. Tolbert could only stand off to the side and watch the others sign. And with that, the roller coaster ride that Tolbert had been through in the previous 12 months was complete. Hope had just jumped out the window.
From initially sending Marshall University a verbal commitment after his junior year, to seeing Marshall back out last September, to seeing FIU jump into the picture only to switch gears at the absolute 11th hour, JaRe Tolbert became the poster child for a high school football player’s not-so-great experience with the recruiting process.
Schools changing their mind on kids just as quickly as kids can change their mind on schools. According to Bethune, FIU head coach Ron Turner had come out to visit both Tolbert and Stinson days before signing day to reiterate their wanting to ink Stinson but mention concerns over Tolber’s 2.696 GPA and that compliance required a 2.7.
“I didn’t know for sure until signing day,” said Tolbert. “The night before I knew everything was still up in the air and I guess it was a little bit stressful. It as definitely tough watching the others sign because those were my brothers, I wanted to be up there with them that day, we all wanted to be up there together but once it didn’t happen and I just had to deal with it.”
And deal with it he did. Later that morning, the phone in Bethune’s office was ringing. Not only was Coastal Carolina on the other end, but The Citadel, a military academy in Charleston, S.C. as well.
Once signing day came, Coach Bethune and myself were sitting in war room and phone calls starting coming in, so it reassured me that I was still on the market and a hot ticket,” said Tolbert.
Eight days later, Tolbert was on a plane to Myrtle Beach for a weekend visit to the Coastal Carolina campus.
“I liked it from the minute I got to the campus,” said Tolbert, who was plagued most of the season with a sprained knee he suffered in the team’s season opener against Hialeah but still managed to record 60 tackles, 20 for losses and six sacks. “And it wasn’t just the football that’s successful there. The criminal justice program I’m actually getting into is in intelligence and sociology with a focus in criminology is really good and they’re just one of only four schools to offer that and I’m excited to get into that.”
“It was tough for me as far as just seeing JaRe having to go through that process and all of the back and forth stuff,” said Bethune. “He was the captain of the team, he was our top recruited guy coming into the season and he was just a really nice kid so you felt for him. But in the end, everything worked out and we’re all happy for him.”
An up-and-down yo-yo ride like the one Tolbert had to go through perhaps might leave some kids mentally scarred and disillusioned with the system. But Tolbert didn’t hesitate when asked if he was bitter.
“It hasn’t been easy but at the same time, I respect the process,” said Tolbert. “I look at college football – it’s a business and sometimes it’s going to get down to politics where they might have to throw you around a little because at the end of the day, you’re still an investment. An investment to the school, an investment to the team. It’s a business, it happens, I”m humbled by it and pretty much going to go out there and try and show everybody that maybe it was their loss.”
And Tolbert wasn’t the only one going through tough times because behind every good kid are good, dedicated parents.
“It was disappointing but at the same time as a parent you have to try not to show them your disappointment or frustration and explain to them the process and that sometimes you always have to have a Plan B,” said Jacqueline Alvarez, his mother. “And he for the most part, JaRé stayed in good spirits and stayed positive. As a parent, it’s our responsibility to just make sure he stays on the right track, keeps a stiff upper lip, doesn’t get discouraged and finds a way to keep moving forward. I’m very proud of my sign, not only for signing his scholarship today but for the mature way he handled himself throughout this process.”
“As a parent, you just had to make sure you told him that he has a lot of good things to look forward to in life and to always stay positive,” said Victor Alvarez, JaRé’s stepfather. “He’s looking forward to going to the military and law enforcement and I’m a firm believer in that when one door closes, another one will open so that’s where we’re at right now. I’m very proud of JaRe, he’s a good kid, deserves good things to happen to him and wish him the best.”