Ryan Chartrand

Tre’dale Tolver has been used to hearing “ooohs” and “ahhhs” since he was young.

He used to draw them in a fashion perhaps unexpected of someone who’s become the best sprinter on Cal Poly’s campus.

“I’m retired thus far,” Tolver says of his days performing magic tricks. “But back in the day, I was pretty good with a little wizardry, card tricks and illusions – that kind of stuff.”

Could he still do them now?

“Not even close,” Tolver says.

From another perspective, though, his magic is still there – there just aren’t any tricks.

“Success comes from hard work,” the 21-year-old flatly states.

For Tolver, that success has shown up not only on the football field, where he was an All-Great West Football Conference Second Team wide receiver as a junior in 2007, but on the track, where he’s already put forth several top-five performances in the 100-meter dash this season.

“Track started as a way for me to better myself in football in the offseason, to stay in shape and get faster,” Tolver says. “My last couple years of high school, I ended up excelling really well. Once I got here at Cal Poly, I thought I had a chance to do something special with it here as well.”

What began as an offseason hobby has turned into a serious pursuit for Tolver, who opened his season by clocking a 10.78-second mark to come in fourth in the 100 at the UCLA Invitational on March 8.

He blazed a 10.47 March 14 at Fresno State to win the event, and a 21.43 in the 200, in which he was second.

“To be running that fast, honestly, is like a science,” Tolver says. “When you’re at top speed, it’s almost like being in a parallel universe. I can’t hear anything going on around me and I’m only in tune to what’s going on on the track. So I can see who’s around me and I can see how far in the race I am, but I’m pretty oblivious to the outside world when that gun goes off.”

Such inner resolve was challenged early in his career, though, when he didn’t compete in track and field due to a hamstring injury suffered his freshman season.

“It scared me away for two years,” says Tolver, who also competes in the 4-by-100 relay and, when needed, the 400. “But being at the Cal Poly Invitational last year brought back a lot of memories and I decided to go out and get after it again.”

A hamstring injury suffered at Fresno State forced him to sit out the Trojan Invitational on March 22, but it hasn’t seemed to threaten his season’s ultimate potential.

“I decided to run on it more, even though I had tweaked it,” Tolver says. “It hindered me a couple weeks and I practiced sporadically, but now I’m on the rebound trying to get back to where I was.”

In what he deems his “premier” event, the 100, Tolver’s since come in fourth at the Cal Poly Invitational on March 29 (with a 10.87), third at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee/Rafer Johnson Invitational on April 10 (with a 10.71) and 10th at the VS Athletics Beach Invitational on Saturday (with a 10.75).

While the 10.47 clocked at Fresno State is Tolver’s best time, its track didn’t have a wind reading, meaning the mark didn’t officially qualify for competition at the NCAA West Regional level, requiring an official 10.55.

Tolver came close at last year’s Big West Conference Championship preliminaries, with a season-best 10.57.

“I figure all I need is time (to reach 10.55),” Tolver says. “I want to run 10.3 by the end of the season.”

Danny Williams, Cal Poly’s sprinting coach, shares Tolver’s patience as the Mustangs prepare for their May 3 home dual against UC Santa Barbara.

“It’s just a matter of putting solid technique with his natural talent, and the times will take care of themselves,” Williams says. “He’s always willing to do the extra, to help out not only himself but the team; he’s a natural leader.”

To Williams, Tolver’s coexisting aptitude for track and football could be an exciting sign of things to come, as Jarred Houston, also a member of the football team, is following in Tolver’s footsteps, and even finished a hundredth of a second ahead of him in the 100 at the Mustangs’ invitational.

“Track and football work together,” Williams says. “(Track) helps establish a dynamic, technical form of running.”

Rich Ellerson, Cal Poly’s head football coach, fully agrees.

“As excited as we are right now about some of the things he’s done in track, I point out he’s been one of our most improved players this spring,” Ellerson says. “Some of that brilliant run-after-the-catch ability we expect to be a part of his game that flashed at different points last season and before is becoming more routine.”

Tolver is one of 10 starters returning from an offense that a year ago averaged 487.1 yards per game, second in the entire Football Championship Subdivision, trailing only national champion Appalachian State.

In spite of last year’s fireworks, Tolver, who caught 31 passes for 537 yards and five scores while also finishing ninth in the country in punt returning by averaging 13.6 yards per runback, is of the mind that the Mustangs can put on even more of a show.

“There were a lot of things we took from last season,” Tolver says of the Mustangs’ 7-4 campaign that didn’t reach the playoffs. “We want to raise the bar. It shouldn’t be close.”

Although the most widely hyped date on the Mustangs’ schedule is their season-ending, Nov. 22 foray into Wisconsin, Tolver’s most anticipated opponent is closer to home.

Cal Poly’s opener Aug. 30 at San Diego State doesn’t figure to be a typical away game for the Mira Mesa High grad who relocated from Shreveport, La. before second grade.

“San Diego State is the game I get excited for the most,” Tolver says. “Playing at Qualcomm (Stadium) is like a homecoming.”

That familiarity couldn’t have hurt in the Mustangs’ 16-14 road victory over the Aztecs in 2006.

“I have more fans at our away games at San Diego State than our home games at Cal Poly,” Tolver laughs.

It shouldn’t come as such a surprise that Aztecs supporters would have a soft spot in their hearts for Tolver.

His brother, J.R. Tolver, led the country in receiving yards per game at San Diego State in 2002 before embarking on a pro career including stops with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, and now the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.

“If I would’ve went to San Diego State, I would be in my brother’s shadow to this day,” Tre’dale Tolver says. “I just wanted to make my own path.”

However, that’s not to say he doesn’t tap into his brother’s wealth of knowledge.

“I go to my brother all the time,” Tolver says. “He’s like a smorgasbord of football information. He’s been everywhere and he’s done everything – he’s been on that roller coaster of highs and lows for a long time.”

At 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Tolver says he tries to model his style of play after similarly sized receivers such as Santana Moss and Steve Smith.

“He was really fast when he got here,” Ellerson says. “Sometimes it’s a trap when you’ve always been the fastest growing up; things can get too easy for you and you don’t learn how to work and train. That’s not been the case with Tre’dale.”

Venturing into both sports only strengthens those routines in Tolver’s eyes.

“Many people see doing two sports at the same time as a problem, but I try to pull the best of both worlds from each,” he says. “I get the strength from football and the speed from track. No track athlete’s going to lift like I lift, and no football athlete’s going to run like I run.”

Though Tolver calls football his “No. 1 priority,” he adds, “Just because (track) isn’t primary doesn’t mean I’m not going to put forth 110 percent. Sports are sports, and competition is competition, so wherever I can get it in, that’s what I plan to do.”

Devoting time to both is time-consuming, Tolver explains, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s difficult to balance both,” he says. “And it leaves me with a lot of early nights and a lot of sore mornings. But it’s worth it in the end.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *