“There was a certain level of expectations, but there were a lot of question marks quite frankly too entering the NFL. ‘Oh he played at TCU — not the best competition. Can he really play at the next level?’ and all these things.”
But through all the mental games and more, one thing remained constant for Tomlinson.
He knew where home was.
“Every step of the way, I knew who I represented,” Tomlinson said. “[TCU] is home.”
Fast-forward 18 years down the road from draft day in 2001, and Tomlinson’s biggest hope is that the next generation of TCU student-athletes share that approach with him — all the while being equipped for the next steps in ways like never before.
“Whether you’re playing professional football or you’re a lawyer or doctor, you have to have certain qualities to attack the work-force [after college],” Tomlinson said. “That’s one of the things I think about if I had — and I felt pretty mature when I went to the Chargers my first year — but there are certain things I just didn’t know.”
Economic and financial development were just two areas of knowledge Tomlinson cited. Granted, TCU has already made strides when it comes to student-athlete development prior to Monday. Among existing events is a student-athlete networking night with local businesses and TCU donors — an event which was attended by 250 student-athletes this school year, per athletic director Jeremiah Donati.
Alas, it didn’t take long for Donati to realize after being introduced as athletic director in December 2017 that there was a prime opportunity to team up with Tomlinson for something even greater.
“When I became the athletic director, we got together and very quickly it became clear that we had a parallel vision for student-athlete development,” Donati said. “We spent a lot of time coaching our kids and preparing them for graduation, but the question we had was ‘what are we doing for our kids after graduation?’”
So, what is the mood, now that tangible steps are being taken? For Donati and all of TCU athletics, there is a sense of gratitude that a school legend and hall of fame NFL running back is willing to make the initiative so personal.
“It would have been easy for LT to write a check and say ‘best of luck to you,’” Donati said. “The fact he’s here and spending time with student-athletes and rolling up his sleeves to help us with the program … it’s pretty much of unheard of.”
As for Tomlinson? There’s a sense of satisfaction and hope, without a doubt.
“I think this will really change the face of the student-athlete here at TCU,” Tomlinson said. “This is really not about what they do here, but what they do when they leave here and represent Texas Christian University.”