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Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers dances after a tackle during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Qualcomm Stadium on September 20, 2009 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)
Mike Tolbert's body has processed more high-speed collisions than a DMV database. Selecting one personal favorite isn't easy.
The Chargers running back sat on a white-padded stool in front of his locker, deep in thought as he stared at the blue carpet below.
Tolbert starts to laugh. He's got it.
The play happened back in college at Coastal Carolina. Tolbert doesn't remember the opponent, but it occurred on a goal-line touchdown run that's a YouTube video waiting to happen.
“A safety stepped up,” Tolbert said with a chuckle. “It wasn't pretty for him. His helmet came off and went rolling through the back of the end zone.
“He was just like — it was crazy. That wasn't my first time knocking somebody over, but that was my first time where the whole crowd, even the opponent's team, was like, 'Woah.'”
That flare for the physical has made Tolbert, in his third NFL season, a fan and locker room favorite. The converted fullback will likely see a significant role Sunday against the Seahawks with starter Ryan Mathews listed as doubtful with a high ankle sprain.
At 5-foot-7, 243 pounds, Tolbert said he's always been a short, stocky guy who can run. He was born a big baby and grew up big. In Pop Warner football, he played with the 12-year-olds at age 7 because he couldn't make the 7-year-old weight.
The extra poundage doesn't go wasted, as Tolbert has thrown it around to inspire his share of nicknames: “The M-Train”; “The Teal Bowling Ball”; “Tol-Dozer.”
Chargers guard Kris Dielman calls Tolbert a “fun guy to block for.” The two share similar profiles. Both went undrafted out of college and are known for being especially physical.
“It's just the way he is. I love it, man,” Dielman said. “He's a hard-nosed kid, runs the ball hard and has a good feel for this offense. He's producing for us right now.”
Tolbert set career highs with 16 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Jaguars. It was the latest example of Tolbert doing what he's asked.
He made the team in 2008 for his abilities as a fullback and special teams contributor. He led the team with 22 special teams stops in 2009.
Be it by making tackles or blowing through them, Tolbert said he can sense that his attraction for contact creates a buzz among his teammates. Coach Norv Turner has noticed it, too.
“He's a very good leader, and he's such a well-liked guy. From the start, I think he brings that energy from his rookie year on,” Turner said. “Last year, when he got his opportunities to move the pile in Denver and in Tennessee, I think it does add to it a little bit. It brings some energy to everybody.”
The Tol-Dozer is now on a collision course with the Seahawks. The team ranks fifth in the NFL with 57 rushing yards allowed per game. It's held runners to two yards per carry, the league's third best mark.
His mindset to the matchup is simple.
“You just gotta attack them. Gotta attack them,” he said. “Their front seven is unbelievable. So we just got to attack them — not try to run away from them, not try to run around them.”
Run through them. Helmets and all.