Tabi's foot a gift for Livingstone

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College
Livingstone kicker Hillman Tabi didn’t start playing football until two years ago during his junior year in high school.
But on Saturday night, Tabi kicked the biggest field goal of his young life when he hit a 26-yard strike in double overtime that gave Livingstone its first win of the season and snapped a 28-game losing streak.
Earlier in the contest, Tabi missed a 30-yard attempt that would have given the Blue Bears the win in regulation against Virginia University of Lynchburg.
“I felt so great after kicking the field goal, but I wasn’t as happy as I could have been because I was still down on myself for missing the first one,” Tabi said Thursday while sitting in the bleachers at Alumni Memorial Stadium. “In high school I made most of my kicks.”
Even after Tabi hit the field goal, the Blue Bears had to “hold serve” as the Dragons got their shot at scoring from the 25-yard line. When they couldn’t get the ball in the end zone to win the game outright, the Dragons attempted a field goal to tie the game and force a third overtime, to no avail.Then, and only then, did Tabi, his teammates, Livingstone coaches and fans breathe a sigh of relief and start celebrating.
The win was especially sweet for Tabi, who was born in Cameroon, in West Central Africa, but grew up in Germany because his dad was in the military. He played soccer most of his life and decided to play football only after being persuaded to give the game a try by Dameon Powell, head football coach at DuVal High School in Lanham, Md.
“We kind of talked him into playing football,” Powell said during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “He was a soccer player at first.”
Powell said Tabi was one of his best players, not only because of his athletic talent but also because of his good grades.“He’s a very special kid,” Powell said. “Hillman has always been a good student and had over a 3.0 GPA in high school. And one thing about him, he works really hard at his craft.”
Livingstone coach Elvin James couldn’t say enough about Tabi. He realizes it was a team effort that led to last week’s big win, and of course he’s ecstatic over player Terry Anderson, who returned two punts for touchdowns, but he’s thankful to have Tabi on the squad.
“He’s a true blessing,” James said. “He’s that weapon we’ve been looking for. When I met him on a recruiting trip I liked his personality. He’s very humble but also very confident in his ability, and he’s strong academically.”
As expected, classmates have been congratulating Tabi all week for kicking the winning field goal. Yet Tabi, a true freshman who hasn’t even turned 18 yet, is taking it all in stride. In fact, he’s still a little down on himself for missing the field goal that would have sealed the deal in regulation.
“It was really an easy kick, but there was a lot of noise and I felt a lot of pressure because it was my first field goal attempt and I knew I could snap the losing streak,” Tabi said. “After it didn’t go in I was just standing, staring at the goal post. I tried to kick it high and up so they couldn’t block it. It looked good when I hit it, and everybody thought at first that it had gone in.”
Fortunately, Tabi received nothing but support after the botched attempt.
“When I came off the field my teammates told me not to worry about it, that I’d have another chance,” Tabi said. “They were encouraging and supportive.”
Anthony Holland, a junior business major from Goldsboro who’s also the Blue Bears’ holder, was among the players telling Tabi to keep his head up.
“I told him don’t get your head down and don’t get discouraged,” said Holland, who also serves as a wide receiver and back-up punt returner for the Blue Bears. “I told him just like I do when I drop a ball, you gotta have a short memory. The shorter your memory, the better off you’ll be for the next kick.”
Holland said the hurt in Tabi’s eyes said it all, making it difficult to talk to him. But after his teammate scored on his second field goal attempt, Holland was right there in his face again.
“I didn’t say too much,” Holland said. “I just smiled and gave him a hug.”
The Blue Bears play Shaw University at 1 p.m. Saturday in Durham. Their 28-game winning streak was among the longest in the nation, according to Interim Athletic Director Tim Orr. Now that it has been snapped, Orr and everyone else affiliated with Livingstone College football hope the Blue Bears can start a new streak – only this time a winning one.
“We’re so grateful to the fans and alumni who continued to support us even though we weren’t winning,” Orr said. “Their confidence in us helped propel us to last Saturdays’ win, which we hope will be the first of many. I’m happy for Coach James and his staff, our President, Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., Livingstone students, faculty, staff, alumni and most especially, our football players.”
James said he hopes the team will continue building on last week’s momentum.And as he walked onto the practice field Thursday he shot a broad smile at Tabi and said: “We plan to ride that foot into a win against Shaw.”