San Diego Chargers #21
Ladainian Tomlinson is currently a professional broadcaster with the NFL Network, a leader of several charitable organizations and founder of his own personal running back school in the LT Academy, following a record setting careers in San Diego and New York as a professional and collegiately with Texas Christian University.
In the days leading to the 2000 professional draft, LaDainian Tomlinson was considered the NFL’s best-kept secret. A late bloomer in high school and barely known to the media in college, few football followers knew of Ladainian and his promise. But a growing number of NFL personnel and fans couldn't see enough of his collegiate highlights, he was an unusually shifty back who seemed to defy physics with his ankle breaking cuts and leaps to find open running space that didn't seem possible. His ability to avoid would-be tacklers was never seen before. L.T. was the real thing, a sure fire star and a certain top draft pick - but just a few years before he was a high school unknown blocking for an older teammate and just hoping to get his chance to prove himself someday. This is his story…
LaDainian Tomlinson was born on June 23, 1979 in Rosebud, Texas, a peaceful rural town located near the towns of Waco and College Station. His parents, Loreane and Oliver, had early difficulties and faced hard ecopnomic times though and ultimately split in 1986, leaving Loreane alone to raise LaDainian and his younger siblings LaVar and Londria.
LaDainian's mother Loreane served as a pastor at the Greater Life Gospel Church and without a father in the home, she relied heavily on LaDainian in those times. She instilled in him the values she held dear to her heart: faith, integrity and hard work. LaDainian rose to the call and helped his mom and family in any way he could.
LaDainian held a fascination for football since he was very small and kept posters of his favorite players such as Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. One day by chance he discovered Pop Warner football and saw that kids his age could actually play football themselves. He was set on playing and begged his mothers approval. LaDainian soon got his first taste of organized football and scored the first time he touched the ball in a game with his mother running excitedly along with him down the sideline, cheering him every step of the way. LaDainian quickly went on to become a star player, with his younger brother LaVar following in his footsteps as a star player himself. Their mother made sure to never miss a game.
As he started high school, LaDainian suited up with Waco’s University High with hopes of someday securing a full scholarship to one of Texas’s powerhouse football programs as many promising young backs do. However, his dreams were put on hold as he wasn't assigned to carry the ball for coach Leroy Coleman, starting out in the defensive bacfield as a linebacker. In fact he wouldn't start at tailback until his senior year. He didn't even see the offensive backfield until his junior year as a fullback, blocking for senior running back Lawrence Pullen.
One would expect that a back with LT's talent would have started all 4 years in high school but Coach Coleman ran his program traditionally, it was expected that players earned the right to carry the ball by blocking for their teammates before them. Always a teammate first, LaDainian spent his junior season learning the fullback trade, honing his field vision and opening up running lanes for his teammates. His experience was invaluable as he had a chance to hone the fundamentals of blocking and the all-around offensive game that helped him so much later in his career.
Heading into his senior season and after three years of patiently waiting for his shot, LaDainian was especially eager to showcase his talents and earn his chance to play college ball. But when his mother unexpectedly got a job in Dallas, it seemed the opportunity he had long dreamed of would slip through his fingers. Not one to give up on a dream, LaDainian begged his mother to let him stay in Waco with a friend, Jason Hughes, and his family while he played out his senior season of football. Just a few months he said. Leaving her son was the hardest decision Loreane ever faced but she understood what it meant to him and the opportunity he was seeking, and without hesitation she blessed him with the chance he had long dreamed of.
His mothers decision was difficult but she knew what she was doing. Just a few weeks later, surpassing 1,000 yards rushing early in the season, LaDainian was already the top sports story in town. Football fans in Waco were busy celebrating the 'best running back the town has ever seen' and just a few months before, nobody even knew his name. After a stellar senior season, LaDainian went on to be named the district 25-4A Most Valuable Player and Super Centex Offensive Player of Year.
There was a problem though with LaDainian's late arrival onto the elite football scene: Most major colleges had long ago committed to other running backs and had offered their scholarships to other backs long ago. Generally the college football recruiting process focuses on juniors when they first rise to prominence and cemented their senior years. With rosters already full of promising talent and attention focused elsewhere, few collegiate coaches paid much attention to him and before he could even demonstrate his talent, he was already shut out of the major universities he once dreamed of. Many coaches also felt that because of his height, he was only a HS level back and could not compete as a tough, every down back at the college level. In many coaches eyes, he would be a limited duty player at best. Discouraged but not beaten, LaDainian was determined to prove them all wrong.
Texas Christian University, Lubbock Texas
LaDainian not just determined to play at the college level however, he was also determined to play for a Division I program and excel, despite the lack of opportunities from the major programs he once dreamed of. He went to work and laid out every available option in front of him. Among the schools showing interest were Baylor, North Texas, UTEP, Kansas State and TCU. In the end, it was nearby TCU that won him over. They seemed to have the most opportunity for him, but the prospect of being able to play in front of his mother and family made it a done deal.
After seeing limited duty his freshman year, Tomlinson quickly established himself with the team in his second season. Nicknamed “Northside,” LaDainian first introduced himself to the collegiate world in a sophomore season thriller against the Air Force Academy, breaking out with a 99 yard effort that led to a 35-34 upset win. From there he never looked back. Several more solid performances helped him to anchor the running back position and seeing his enourmous potential, the TCU coaching staff began to build the offense around him and the wins began to pile up.
His junior year, LaDainian topped the NCAA with 1,850 yards on the ground and scored 18 touchdowns, winning the ’99 Division I rushing title. One of these games included a 406 yard effort that still stands as the NCAA single game rushing record. When LaDainian received the highly prestigious award, the biggest of his career, he nailed it to the wall of his offensive line’s meeting room.
Not one to rest on his accomplishments, Tomlinson led the NCAA for the second time his senior year with an amazing 2,158 yards, 22 touchdowns and was recognized as a unanimous first-team All-American. He produced, rushing for more than 200 yards five times, leading his team to a 10-1 mark and a No. 13 ranking, never being held under 100 yards. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back and was a finalist for the Heisman trophy, but came in fourth in the voting behind long time friend Drew Brees and two others. He ultimately ended his college career with 5,263 rushing yards, ranking sixth in NCAA Division I history.
Texas Chrtistian University retired his jersey (No. 5) at halftime of a 2005 game. Later that year, Tomlinson fulfilled a promise to his mother by earning his bachelors degree in communications from TCU.
As the NFL draft approached, once again it was questioned whether he could handle the rigors of being an every down running back. While no one questioned his ability, his size was considered but not for long. Smart scouts didn't let his size fool them, however. An avid weightlifter and workout aficionado, LaDainian was among the league’s strongest players before he even entered the draft. But what attracted scouts was not his strength, he certainly had the strength to run through tackles, but what set him apart was that he had the skill, vision and instinctual intelligence to avoid them altogether.
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