Tolbert had a four-year career at Coastal Carolina University and was named a second-team FCS All-American after leading the Chants in rushing with 748 yards on 111 carries and 9 touchdowns. In four years he had 303 touches without any fumbles. He followed in the footsteps of Quinton Teal who was undrafted in 2007, but went to Carolina Panthers training camp as an undrafted free agent and made the roster becoming the first CCU player to play in an NFL game. At Coastal Carolina, Tolbert also was teammates with quarterback Tyler Thigpen and wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who would both also go on to play in the NFL.
Tolbert was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Diego Chargers on April 28, 2008. Tolbert played in 13 games in the 2008 season (starting 7 at fullback) and rushed for only 37 yards on 13 carries. In the 2009 season, Tolbert rushed for 148 yards with one touchdown, as well as catching 17 passes for 192 yards and three receiving touchdowns. In 2010, Tolbert emerged as a co-starter along with Ryan Mathews, and broke out with 182 carries for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns.
On March 19, 2012, Tolbert signed a four-year, $10 million (4.2 guaranteed) contract with the Carolina Panthers. Utilized as a fullback, Tolbert earned his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2013. He was also named to the 2013 All-Pro Team, another first of his career.
On January 3, 2015, Tolbert scored his first career postseason touchdown, a 1-yard reception from Cam Newton in the NFC Wild Card playoffs. The third quarter score extended the Panthers' lead over the Arizona Cardinals to 27-14, in an eventual 27-16 win.
Tolbert received his nickname, "Yogi", from his sister because Yogi Bear was his favorite televisioncartoon as a child. He is also known as "The Freight Train". Mike is married to California native, Shianette Tolbert (née Fernandez). Mike and Shianette have two children, their daughter, Mikeala Rae Tolbert, born on October 3, 2011 at UCSD Medical Center, and their son Major De'on Tolbert, born on November 15, 2013. He is also the uncle of Andrew and Coleman Tolbert.