CHICAGO — Laken Tomlinson's storybook life added another notable chapter as the Lane Tech College Prep graduate was named to the Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, which recognizes 22 NCAA and NAIA college football players who have "have positively impacted their communities and the lives of others through service."
On Monday, Tomlinson was surprised by Allstate, Duke Football and the Durham Rescue Mission with his Allstate AFCA Good Works Team trophy.
“Especially a person coming from my background who didn’t have a lot growing up, being in the position where you can give back, I just feel like that’s something you need to do to live a quality life," Tomlinson said in an email Monday. "Every opportunity you have to give back, you should. I truly believe that.”
“It is a great honor to be named to the prestigious Good Works team," Tomlinson said last week. "Coach [David] Cutcliffe has instilled a sense of pride in us to give back, whether that is in our hometowns or in the Durham community.”
Justin Breen says Tomlinson's story is similar to that of Michael Oher, which was told in the movie "The Blind Side":
Tomlinson, a native of Jamaica, moved to Rogers Park with his mother, two brothers and sister when he was 10.
In eighth grade, while a student at Jordan Community School in Rogers Park, Tomlinson was selected to the Youth Guidance Program, which pairs disadvantaged children throughout 60 Chicago Public Schools with families who mentor them, help them stay on track in school and gain social skills. Tomlinson was paired with Bob Sperling, a partner at the prestigious Downtown Winston & Strawn law firm who also was a member of the Board of Trustees at the University of Illinois.
Somewhat similar to the story of Michael Oher in the movie "The Blind Side," Tomlinson became a de facto member of the Sperling family, making frequent trips to their nearly 5,000-square-foot home just steps from Lake Michigan in Glencoe.
While at Lane Tech, Tomlinson was named the 23rd-best offensive guard in the nation by Scout.com, in addition to several other national honors. He chose Duke University over several other Division I schools.
Tomlinson was voted a Duke captain this season, and the NFL prospect is a candidate for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the country's top interior lineman.
Tomlinson is "active in a number of other service projects in the Durham community, including the Ronald McDonald House, Durham School of the Arts, White Rock Baptist Church and Durham Rescue Mission," according to a news release after he was selected to the Good Works squad.
Last year, he was able to join nine Blue Devils football players on a mission trip to Langano, Ethiopia, for a water well-digging project. To get on the plane, Tomlinson first had to borrow a car to drive some 250 miles to Washington, D.C., and renew his Jamaican passport.
He was selected to the Good Works team from a record 182 nominations. The Good Works squad will participate in a community project in New Orleans prior to the 2015 Sugar Bowl, which also will be one of the two college football playoff semifinals. Various media members, including ESPN's Lou Holtz and Kirk Herbstreit, plus other dignitaries and former Good Works team members, selected this year's winners.
Duke, which lost to Florida State in last season's ACC Championship Game, is 7-1 after a 51-48 overtime victory at Pitt on Saturday.
Tomlinson is the sixth Duke player to be selected to the Good Works team in its 23-year history.
"Here at Duke, we’ve built a proud tradition of players earning this incredible recognition from Allstate and the American Football Coaches Association," Tomlinson said.
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