SCHENECTADY — In the end, Robbie Tolbert wasn’t 100% sure it was the right football.
But the gesture from Union football quarterback William Bellamy was what really mattered, anyway, to the freshman wide receiver from Maryland.
Tolbert’s first career college reception in Saturday’s season-opening 48-14 win against SUNY Morrisville at Frank Bailey Field was for a 25-yard touchdown, which was Union’s first score of the year. The prior night, Bellamy — Union’s star quarterback — told Tolbert to stay with him after practice, and the veteran passer brought Tolbert with him to pick out the game-day footballs Union’s offense used Saturday.
Tolbert was instructed to pick out the first ball with a question from the quarterback.
“Which one do you want to score a touchdown with first?” Bellamy asked.
Now . . . was that actually the football Tolbert caught for Saturday’s first touchdown?
“I hope so,” said Tolbert, smiling. “Could be.”
Regardless, the post-practice moment meant a lot to a freshman who started his first game.
“It helped me a lot because it showed he was confident in what I could do and he knew I was ready for this game,” Tolbert said. “He wanted to show he trusted me and he wanted to give me an opportunity, so I was very happy when he did that.”
“Very talented young freshmen with a great attitude, a great mindset,” Bellamy said of Tolbert. “Works hard every day at practice. He’ll be very successful for the Dutchmen this season.”
Union entered this season with established offensive stars such as Bellamy, running back Ike Irabor and wide receiver Andre Ross. Bellamy passed for four touchdowns in Saturday’s win, and two of them were scored by Ross.
Tolbert, though, played well enough during the preseason to secure a starting spot for nationally ranked Union.
“He earned it throughout training camp,” Union head coach Jeff Behrman said. “He proved himself from practice to practice.”
Behrman, whose team finished 11-1 in 2019 before not playing in 2020 because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, said he had confidence in Tolbert heading into the preseason.
“He was a fun kid to recruit, fun family; they’re just great people,” Behrman said. “He’s a very humble person and I was happy for him to make that [touchdown] catch, and to be really productive throughout the rest of the game, as well. He’s a hard worker. He deserves every bit of it.”
As a high school senior, Tolbert’s football season only consisted of three games because of pandemic-related restrictions. Overall, Tolbert said the recruiting restrictions associated with the pandemic likely limited his recruitment.
“But I’m happy I came here because I love the coaches. I love the team,” Tolbert said. “I know I made the right decision to come here.”
Tolbert, a 5-foot-11 wide receiver, had five receptions for 80 yards in Saturday’s win. In next Saturday’s game against Worcester, he wants to build on his opening effort.
“This is just one game,” Tolbert said. “We’ve got a lot more games to play. We’ve got to stay focused and get better every week because we didn’t play perfect. I didn’t play perfect. There’s still a lot more to do, but we’re going to be a very good team once we put it all together.”