Professional football player
LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the most critically acclaimed football players of the twenty-first century. Since his 2001 professional debut with the San Diego Chargers, he has broken numerous league records and received honors from the Associated Press, ESPN, and the Professional Football Writers of America. Having risen from an underprivileged background, Tomlinson dedicates part of his time to working with children in Texas and California.
LaDainian Tomlinson was born on June 21, 1979, in Rosebud, Texas, a small community located near College Station and Waco. Tomlinson was the oldest of three children born to Oliver Tomlinson, a construction worker, and Loreane Chappell, a pastor. Tomlinson also has five half-siblings from Oliver's previous relationships.
In 1983, a back injury left Oliver unable to work at his previous job, placing the family under severe financial strain. Unable to recover from the stress of financial burdens, Tomlinson's parents divorced in 1986, leaving his mother to care for Tomlinson and his younger siblings, Londria and LaVar. After their divorce, Oliver left Rosebud and was absent for most of Tomlinson's childhood. To support the family, Loreane worked as a pastor for the Greater Life Gospel Church.
Wanted to Play Football
Despite being estranged from his father at a young age, Tomlinson reported that his interest in football was inspired by the time that he and his father spent together watching football games on television. In his official biography, Tomlinson reports that he slept with his football from childhood until his junior year in college. In a 2007 interview with Time's Sean Gregory, LaVar Tomlinson recalled, "I can never remember that ball being on the floor."
At nine years old, Tomlinson joined the Pop Warner League, where he played until reaching high school. In the early 1990s, Tomlinson attended a summer football camp, where he had the chance to meet and learn from Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys. Tomlinson later reported that Smith was one of his most important role models, especially given the fact that both Tomlinson and Smith are short in stature when compared to the average football player.
Tomlinson attended Waco University High School, where he played four years for the school team. Before his senior year, Tomlinson's mother moved to Dallas, but allowed him to remain in Waco to complete his senior year. Tomlinson turned out a spectacular season to win most valuable player (MVP) honors and was named Super Centex Offensive Player of the Year. Over the course of his high school career, Tomlinson scored thirty-nine touchdowns and ran for over twenty-five hundred yards.
Played for the Horned Frogs
Despite a strong senior performance, Tomlinson's first three seasons in the high school league were unremarkable, so he received few offers for college placement. He chose Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth because it was close to his mother and siblings in Dallas and, after interviewing, Tomlinson felt comfortable with the school's coaching staff.
His rookie season with the TCU Horned Frogs was a disappointment as the team fared poorly and Tomlinson was unable to achieve noteworthy scores. Between seasons, he invested his time in strength training and conditioning in hopes of improving his performance for the upcoming season. In addition, the school undertook a complete reorganization of the coaching staff, including the employment of a new head coach, Dennis Franchione.
Under Franchione's leadership, the Horned Frogs improved during the 1998 season, and the following year it achieved an 8-4 record, the team's best in more than a decade. Tomlinson's training regimen was also a success, allowing him to finish his sophomore season with 8 touchdowns and 717 yards, establishing his position as one of the team's top players. His performance continued to improve during his junior season, in which he scored 18 touchdowns and became a league leader with 1,850 yards in gains.
In July of 1999, Tomlinson and a TCU basketball player were arrested for possession of marijuana. Tomlinson appealed and was later cleared of the charges. Despite proving his innocence, the incident reduced Tomlinson's attractiveness to major league scouts, and he felt that the local media treated him poorly by extensively reporting on his arrest and never covering his victorious appeal.
Tomlinson decided to remain with the team for a fourth season, partially to honor his mother, who wanted him to finish college, and also to increase his standing for the professional drafts. The Horned Frogs performed well during the first half of the season but declined in later games. Tomlinson finished his season with 2,158 rushing yards, which was a record for the program and the fourth-best rushing achievement in college football history.
Tomlinson entered the draft before completing his college degree. During his senior year, he reconciled with his father. He later said that this was one of the most important achievements of his time at college. In addition, just before entering the draft, Tomlinson and his long-time girlfriend, LaTorsha Oakley, became engaged; they were married in 2003.
Drafted by the San Diego Chargers
Tomlinson was chosen in the first-round draft by the San Diego Chargers, who were impressed by his work ethic, catching, and running abilities. The Chargers signed Tomlinson for a six-year, $38 million contract, which transformed Tomlinson's life overnight. He immediately purchased new homes for his mother and sister, as well as buildings for his mother's real estate business and his sister's day care center. For himself and his fiancée, Tomlinson purchased new vehicles and a condominium in San Diego.
Tomlinson impressed his coaches and the team's fans by picking up over one hundred yards in each of the team's first three games and also achieved a personal milestone when the Chargers won a close victory over Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys. Though the Chargers finished with an unimpressive 5-11 record, Tomlinson scored 10 touchdowns and 1,236 yards and was a contender for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. During his second season, even though the team again had a poor overall performance, Tomlinson broke the Charger's record for yardage and was voted the team's MVP.
His third season with the Chargers was disappointing, as the team finished with a 4-10 record. Despite the team's poor performance, Tomlinson again scored the team's only significant achievements by obtaining 2,370 yards, which was second in league history to Marshall Faulk's 1999 performance with the St. Louis Rams. In 2004, the Chargers agreed to renegotiate Tomlinson's contract, renewing an eight-year commitment with a pay increase to $60 million. It was during his fourth season when the team emerged from their three-year slump with a surprising bid for the playoffs. Though the Chargers lost in the first round to the New York Jets, the season catapulted Tomlinson to national prominence.
At a Glance …
Born LaDainian Tomlinson on June 24, 1979, in Rosebud, TX; son of Oliver Tomlinson and Loreane Chappell; married LaTorsha Oakley, 2003. Education: Waco University High School, Waco, Texas, 1993-97; attended Texas Christian University, 1997-2000; received BA in general studies, 2005.
Career: San Diego Chargers, running back, 2001—.
Selected awards: Professional Football Writers of America, National Football League (NFL) Most Valuable Player (MVP), 2006; Best NFL Player ESPY Award, 2006; Best Record-Breaking Performance ESPY Award, 2006; Best Male Athlete ESPY Award, 2006; Associated Press, NFL MVP, 2007.
Addresses: Office—San Diego Chargers, PO Box 609100, San Diego, CA 92160-9609.
Tomlinson achieved a career record in the 2005 season by scoring twenty touchdowns, but could not help the team to avoid early elimination before the playoffs. The following season, he set a National Football League (NFL) record with nineteen touchdowns in six games. He also achieved a league record for yards achieved within a player's first six seasons. Tomlinson's 2006 season was more impressive, and as a result he was awarded the coveted Associated Press trophy as the MVP in the NFL and the Professional Football Writers of America's MVP Award. Tomlinson was also honored with ESPN's ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete. By the close of the 2006 season, he had set thirteen NFL records.
By week six of the 2007 regular season, the Chargers had achieved a 3-3 record and in interviews, Tomlinson expressed his disappointment and concern for his future on the team. Though Tomlinson played an important role in the team's three victories, he had been limited in offensive effectiveness and only passed the one-hundred-yard mark in one of the team's first six games.
Placed Family and Community First
Tomlinson uses much of his free time to get involved in community activities in San Diego and Waco. He and his wife organized the Tomlinson Touching Lives Foundation, which sponsors children's football and golf camps in both Texas and California. He also supports numerous charitable foundations, including programs that provide food and gifts to underprivileged children and children suffering from illnesses.
In 2005, LaTorsha miscarried, which came as a blow to the hopeful couple. Tomlinson has often expressed in interviews his desire to become a father. "You think you have got life planned out and you've got it all dialed in and you know how it's supposed to go," Tomlinson said in a 2005 interview with San Diego Union-Tribune's Kevin Acee. "We're going to have a baby. It's going to be great. Then God says, ‘Not yet. This is not the time.’" Though Tomlinson's successes in football continued to mount, he consistently held that his family and life outside of football were more important than his career. "What's important to me is my faith in God, my family, then football."
In February of 2007, Tomlinson received the unfortunate news that his father and brother-in-law had been killed in a fatal car accident resulting from an exploded tire. Tomlinson's father was pronounced dead at the scene. "My father and I had a great relationship, and I am devastated by his passing," Tomlinson said in a brief press release shortly after his father's death. "I will miss him."
San Diego Union-Tribune, September 9, 2004; August 4, 2005; February 24, 2007; September 24, 2007.
Gregory, Sean, "The Best Back Ever," Time Online Edition,http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1574162,00.html (accessed December 17, 2007).
"LaDainian Tomlinson," JocksBio.com,http://www.jockbio.com/Bios/Tomlinson/Tomlinson_bio.html (accessed December 17, 2007).
"LaDainian Tomlinson's Bio," LaDainian Tomlinson Online,http://ladainiantomlinson.com/bio.htm (accessed December 17, 2007).
Pressman, Stacey, "Coffee with LaTorsha Tomlinson," Special Report for NBC Sports.com,http://www.nbcsports.com/nfl/716786/detail.html (accessed December 17, 2007).
Silver, Michael, "Lightning Rod," Sports Illustrated Online Edition,http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/writers/michael_silver/09/03/silver.tomlinson/index.html (accessed December 17, 2007).
"#21 LaDainian Tomlinson," San Diego Chargers Official Site,http://www.chargers.com/team/roster/ladainian-tomlinson.htm (accessed December 17, 2007).
—Micah L. Issitt
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