Long Beach, California born Gregory D. Tolver, Jr. began his football career at Mira Mesa Senior High School in San Diego. Although he eventually became known for his prowess as a wide receiver, he spent his high school career as the signal caller as the Marauders quarterback. He threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns as a two-year starter. As a senior, he was voted team MVP and named to the all academic team.
We recently chatted about a memorable Upper Deck rookie card signing, his childhood sports card collection, digging his old jerseys out of storage and the inspiration he hopes they provide to his young children.
Tony Reid-How much pride do you take in your autograph and signing for fans?
J.R. Tolver-I always had this vision of being in the NFL. When I was six years old I watched Doug Williams become the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. I remember sitting next to my dad watching that game. He was having that conversation with me. I feel like that was the moment when I knew I wanted to play in the National Football League. So, I started practicing my autograph from a very early age. When I first got asked for my autograph I was at San Diego State. I was a redshirt freshman. I was just on the roster at this point. One of the guys had a media guide and asked me to sign it. It was a special moment for a young athlete for sure.
TR–You collected sports cards as a kid, so how special was it to see yourself on a trading card for the first time?
JT-San Diego State had a partnership with Denny’s where Denny’s created some cards for the Aztecs who were coming out that year. That was the first time I saw myself on a card. That had a little bit of a special meaning but as you mentioned I was a collector. I was all about Upper Deck and Fleer and Topps. As cool as it was to see myself catching a football on a Denny’s card I knew I hadn’t quite made it yet. But once I got to the league and my agent started telling me Upper Deck wanted to do a rookie deal with me and Fleer wanted to do a rookie deal with me and I sat in my living room and had to sign a thousand cards. That’s when it became real for me. I was living in Plantation, Florida at the time. They walk in with a stack of a thousand cards. First of all, this is awesome because I was on a card and secondly, I wondered how long it was going to take me to sign those cards. That was a turning point for me as it pertains to turning your visions into a reality and that is something that stuck with me to this day.
TR- Speaking of you being a collector as a kid, I heard you had some Jerry Rice rookies, some Barry Sanders rookies and about 5,000 cards. What did the collection entail as a young man?
JT-When I first started I would just go to the 7/11 down the street by my house. This was when I really got into football. I was very into the NFL from a very young age. I didn’t start getting into college football until I started getting recruited. It’s always been NFL football for me.
I would get an allowance for taking out the trash or mowing the grass or whatever it was and walked to the store and spent my 79 cents on a pack of Fleer or Topps cards. I would just grab cards. I would bring them back to the house. I got into the books and binders with sheets and I started storing my cards in there.
I went to a card show one time. It was at the mall in our neighborhood. I saw that not only were there cards you could buy but they made books, the price guides that told you the value of those cards. I didn’t even realize you could buy entire sets. I just went to the store and bought packs.
When I bought cards the goal was always to get my favorite players. Buying packs it was just a matter of luck. Then when I really got turned on to it was when I saw that Barry Sanders card at that show. It cost five bucks. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had to have it. Barry Sanders was my favorite football player. I bought that card. It was the most money I ever spent on a card. Normally I would just buy the 79 cent packs. I bought that Barry Sanders card and I was hooked.
TR-Do you still have that Barry Sanders card and the rest of your cards today?
JT-I’m not actively collecting anymore but I still have my collection from childhood. I have my price guides. I have my collection of Fleer rookies and I have all of the individual cards that I purchased.
TR–More importantly, do you have any of your own cards in that collection?
JT-Oh, yeah! Absolutely. I have a couple pages of my cards.
TR–Do you have an office full of memorabilia?
JT-It’s funny, I don’t. I’m in my office. My wife dragged these out of the drawer and found frames for them. I have never been big into collecting the stuff I won throughout my career. I regret it a little bit now. I have small kids and it would be cool for me to be able to give them that active inspiration as it pertains to ‘Hey I know you are only eight years old today but at some point you are going to be 21. What is your vision for yourself at that age?’ This is that vision for myself and it is now real life. I started talking to my wife about going and grabbing some of this stuff out of the drawers and memorializing them more as an inspiration to our kids.
TR- We are talking about some really powerful things such as turning these visions into reality and being able to pass that thought and power down to your kids is a really powerful thing.
JT-It really is, man. As a kid, sometimes you don’t understand it. There are certain things that I will always look back and remember as a kid and I can tie them to the successes or failures I had as an adult. I want to put it into my kid’s subconscious now and t just so happens that their father did something that not many people do have the availability, which is play at the highest level and if anything I want that to be an inspiration to them.