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From Jamaica to Rogers Park to the NFL's First Round for Laken Tomlinson

 Lane Tech College Prep graduate Laken Tomlinson is an offensive lineman at Duke.
Laken Tomlinson
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CHICAGO — It's been a "surreal" several days for Laken Tomlinson — the Lane Tech grad and North Sider selected by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the NFL Draft last week.

"It's surreal, I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd get to a point like this in my life," Tomlinson told DNAinfo Monday night. "But I worked hard and I feel like I deserve it."

In the last five days, the Lane Tech standout and former Rogers Park resident has been to the Motor City to meet Lions teammates, coaches and the media before returning to Chicago. Back home, Tomlinson and his family had a Saturday dinner with his mentor, Bob Sperling, and Sperling's family.

Justin Breen says it's been a crazy few days for Tomlinson:

In a story similar to that of Michael Oher in the best-selling book and movie "The Blind Side," Tomlinson became a de facto member of the Sperling family after moving here from Jamaica, and he made frequent trips to the Sperlings' nearly 5,000-square-foot home near Lake Michigan in Glencoe.

He was back there over the weekend to say thanks and reflect on his good fortune.

"On Saturday, we were just sitting around the table, talking about everything that's about to happen to me," Tomlinson said.

On Monday, Tomlinson was back at Duke, where he's been packing his belongings and trying to figure out where he'll live in Detroit. On Thursday, he's flying back to Michigan for the Lions' rookie mini-camp.

"I'm really excited to be on their team," said Tomlinson, who was taken by the Lions with the 28th pick in the first round at Roosevelt University. "I felt really welcomed and everyone's really happy and excited for me to be there."

Tomlinson said he doesn't mind playing for his hometown Chicago Bears' divisional rival. He noted he didn't start watching NFL games until college, and his team "was always the one I was playing for."

His post-football career goal is to become a neurosurgeon — potentially helping to solve the game's current issue with concussions — but for now, Tomlinson said he's only focused on "establishing myself as a professional football player."

Tomlinson, a native of Jamaica, moved to Rogers Park with his mother, two brothers and sister when he was 10. He brought his mother, Audrey Wilson, to the draft Thursday night.

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 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.

"I'm on Cloud 10," Sperling told DNAinfo Thursday night. "We both cried [after he was drafted]. It's been a long journey for us. We've been through a lot. He has developed beyond my wildest expectations."

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 past season, and he was a candidate for the Outland Trophy, awarded to the country's top interior lineman.

Tomlinson was selected first-team All-American and first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a senior in 2014.

Tomlinson said he's heard from several former teammates and coaches at Lane Tech, including ex-football coach Rich Rio and Louis Trinca-Pasat, who was signed as an undrafted rookie by the St. Louis Rams.

Tomlinson also wanted to thank everyone from Chicago who helped him on his journey to the NFL.

"For everyone that’s supported me over the years, I thank you for all your love and all your support and all the guidance you’ve given me as a young man," Tomlinson said. "Now that I’m on to pursue a career in the NFL, I just wanted to say thank you. ... Shoutout to the kids in Jordan Community school, shoutout to Lane Tech, shoutout to the North Side of Chicago."

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