Panthers' Tolbert opening up about life off the football field

Mike Tolbert opens up about life off the football field

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Carolina Panthers are just days away from playing in their first NFC Championship in ten years.

It's a place that many skeptics didn't expect to see the Panthers at the beginning of the season, but fullback Mike Tolbert has known there was something special about the team all season.

During training camp in July, Tolbert was convinced that the team had what it takes to win.

"We don't necessarily need the name power," Tolbert said over the summer of the Panthers fairly unknown backfield. "It's always been a stable, and it's still a stable of running backs. We may not be at the Kentucky Derby, we may be at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but we are some horses back there ready to roll."

The confidence is still there as the team prepares for something new - a NFC Championship on the line with home field advantage.

"It's gonna be a good game. Arizona is coming in to try and knock us off," he said.

The team hasn't been in the NFC Championship Game since 2006, when they lost to the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers lost the 1997 NFC Championship to the Green Bay Packers.

They have only gone to the championship game one other time, in 2004, when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles to advance to the Super Bowl. They lost to the New England Patriots.

Tolbert would love to get a second chance at the Super Bowl, but he's keeping things in perspective.

"I'm obviously focused on the game and what I got to do to help the team win," Tolbert said. "I think as a player you obviously look at the final place, the destination you want to be at. But you can't overlook your opponent this week because it's not guaranteed."

But he makes one promise to Panthers fans for Sunday.

"When Sunday comes and it's time to lace them up against Arizona, I will be ready," he said.

He's been ready all season. Tolbert is one of eight Panthers who were recently named to the 2015 Associated Press All-Pros team.

It's the second first-team All-Pro honor for fullback Mike Tolbert, who earned the honor in 2013.

He's been called a beast on the field and has been given the nickname Toldozer, but in the locker room there are a variety of names: Bowling Ball, Tub of Mayonnaise, Tub of Goo, Plate of Paste, Sugar Bear.

"And Butterball. The owner calls me Butterball," he said. "So if you call me fat, so what? What else are you going to say? It don't hurt me. I just embrace being a bigger guy. A lovable guy. And you want to call me a teddy bear, then so be it."

He jokes that he was 6'2" before he started playing football but "then my neck shrunk."

He's actually 5'9, 252 pounds, and proud of not only his stats, but the personality he so visibly brings on Sundays. His ritual is to crawl in from the tunnel.

"I kinda black out for a minute because you get so hyped, the adrenaline is pumping so hard," he said. "Just to see all the fans and to see the smoke and the lights and the fire burning, from the podium, it's a special feeling."

Despite the jokes, the 30-year-old can be serious if needed.

"Respect. Loyalty. Determination. Dedication. Those are four principles I live by everyday," he said.

Off-field, Tolbert and his wife Shianette have two pit bulls, who they consider kids, and two actual children: 4-year-old Mikayla and 2-year-old Major.

"My daughter is a little prissy, ballerina type always walking around on her toes," he said. "My son? Picture me at 2-and-a-half feet tall. He's a wrecking ball."

He welcomes, you, if you see him, to say hello.

"I don't mind being recognized. I don't mind somebody seeing me on the street or in the mall and saying, 'Hey Tolbert, what's going on?' or 'Mike, Toldozer!' or 'Hey Fat Boy!'. And it's like... (turns his head and smirks)... Who YOU talking to?"

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