ONE OF A KIND
There may have been some as good—after all, there have been 24 either first-, second or third-team All-Americans recognized in the 106-yard history of University of Arkansas at Monticello football—but, arguably, there has never been anyone better to wear the Kelly Green and White than Jalen Tolliver.
The record-breaking wide receiver, who himself is already among the 35 All-America honorable mentions the school has had, is likely to top them all when it comes to postseason awards this winter. Tolliver finished his career on Nov. 11 and was almost immediately named the Great American Conference Offensive Player of the Year, following his second consecutive unanimous selection to the All-GAC first team.
As the weeks unfold, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder is almost surely to garner several quite a few more individual honors, possibly making himself the most decorated football player to ever step on the UAM campus. The NCAA regional and national awards have yet to be announced, along with those same teams from places like Daktronics, d2football.com, the Football Gazette, Don Hanson and the Associated Press.
Tolliver has already etched his name in the Boll Weevil record books more than any other wide receiver. Earlier this season, he surpassed both Anthony Giovingo’s career receiving yardage record and Hugh Heflin’s career and single-game receiving touchdowns marks (see the accompanying “Open Letter to Jalen Tolliver”) and, with a two-score, 127-yard performance in his final contest against rival Southern Arkansas University, he erased both Devon Stewart’s single-season receiving touchdowns and Eldren Milton’s receiving yardage by a senior achievements.
Giovingo’s old career receiving yardage mark was 2,646 in 1995-98 and Heflin’s touchdowns record was 29 in 1949-52, while Stewart’s old single-season standard for receiving touchdowns was 15 set in 2003 (Tolliver had 16 this fall) and Milton’s senior receiving yardage record was 1,031 in 1996 (Tolliver finished with 1,109 in 2017). The Rayville, La. product, one of five four-year lettermen for UAM head football coach Hud Jackson this year, came precariously close to grabbing a couple more school records, too. Jywin Ceaser caught 194 passes between 2007 and 2010, and Von Mixon finished with 1,245 recieiving yards in 2004.
Tolliver finished a stellar career in Monticello with 192 receptions for 3,168 yards and 39 touchdowns in 42 games, becoming the first Weevil wideout in history to break the 3,000-yard barrier in receiving yards and only the second to surpass the 190-catch barrier. His back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving season place him at the top of all UAM wide receivers, as well.
Of course, as Tolliver himself would readily admit, those individual accolades would be traded in a second for the chance to have had more chances to play football for UAM.
“My career as a Boll Weevil has been one to remember,” Tolliver said, “and being able to go out and accomplish the things that I was able to accomplish with my teammates has been a blessing and a dream come true. My senior season was bittersweet; I never expected it to go by so fast—but it’s also been one of the best years I’ve had since I’ve been at UAM.
“I never knew I️ was that close to breaking the records until Week 3. My mom bought a paper from the Corner Store and told me all about it later that day. Breaking the records never really crossed my mind during season but, looking back at it, it felt like a dream come true just being able to break records that have been held here for many years at UAM.
“I’d like to thank Coach Jackson and the rest of the staff for giving me an unbelievable opportunity these past four years.”
For Jackson, the dream and opportunity were not just Tolliver’s—but his, too.
“Jalen Tolliver was a steal from Ouachita High School in Monroe (La.),” the seventh-year head Weevil noted. “We were the only school to offer him to play wide receiver. Several Division I schools offered him as a defensive back.
“He is an outstanding young man who has represented our program with great work ethic and class. He will be missed.”
Both Tolliver and his coach, they said, believe the GAC Offensive Player of the Year will make the easy switch from playing on Saturdays to playing on Sundays next fall.
“He is a very special player that will get a chance at the next level,” Jackson said. “We have had several NFL teams visit with us about him. One of the scouts believe he is projected around the fifth round.”
Of the 181 players listed as wide receivers on current professional rosters, only 13 are bigger in size than Tolliver—and fans that follow pro football know how much priority NFL scouts place in size at that position. The average wideout in the NFL ranks (not counting tight ends used as wide receivers by many teams) is two inches smaller than the UAM upperclassman and weighs 10 pounds less. Tolliver’s 192 receptions during his time at UAM will show he has the hands to play at the next level as well, Jackson noted.
Only Buffalo (6-3, 211) averages a bigger overall receiving corps, and two teams—the New York Giants and San Francisco—have no receivers either as tall or as heavy. Along with the 13 wideouts who are bigger in stature (topped by Seattle’s Tanner McEvoy at 6-6, 230 and New Orleans’ Brandon Coleman at 6-6, 225), 14 currently active NFL are Tolliver’s height but carry more weight and three are exactly the same size.
Among that group are stars like Cincinnati’s A.J. Green (6-4, 210), Atlanta’s Julio Jones (6-3, 220), Arizona’s Larry’s Fitzgerald (6-3, 218) and Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson (6-3, 217), to name a few. The UAM senior would fit—at least in size—in the top 17 percent of active NFL wideouts.
“I️ would love to continue to playing football at the next level,” Tolliver said. “I️t’s been my dream since I️ was young, and I️ feel it’s every kid’s dream to play at the next level—no matter what sport they play. If given the opportunity, I plan to take full advantage of it.
“I feel I’ll have a good shot to play; it’s what I’ve worked for these last four years and what I’ll continue to work for, including improving my route running, catching and everything else that comes with being a productive wide receiver.
“But if things weren’t to go as I planned, I’d love to take up a coaching job just to stay around sports and give my knowledge to today’s youth.”
Those will definitely be some privileged young people, but they’re likely going to have to wait until Tolliver’s professional career is over.