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Doubters, defenders can't stop Tomlinson

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Sep 6, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/football/nfl/stories/090605dnspotomlinson.e17b0c0.html" target="_blank">Dallas Morning News</a>

    SAN DIEGO, Calif. – LaDainian Tomlinson was aglow with his emerging career as a running back after winning the NCAA rushing crown in 1999.

    So dominant was Tomlinson that season in the WAC, rushing for 1,850 yards and 18 touchdowns, that he decided to probe his market as a pro prospect.

    Tomlinson petitioned an NFL advisory committee that winter for counseling on possible early entry into the draft. Not that he planned to skip his senior season at TCU, but he wanted to know where he could expect to be drafted if he did come out.

    The answer shocked Tomlinson – late third round, the typewritten report said.

    Tomlinson obviously hadn't impressed the NFL that fall, shredding the defenses of Rice, SMU and UT-El Paso.

    So Tomlinson tacked the report to the wall next to his apartment door.

    "Every day I walked out the door on the way to practice, I'd look at that letter," Tomlinson said. "That's what drove me my senior year."

    Tomlinson did become the best running back in college football that year, winning his second consecutive NCAA rushing title with a 2,158-yard season.

    Five years later, Tomlinson is now considered the best all-around running back in the NFL. He begins pursuit of his first NFL rushing crown Sunday when the Cowboys visit his San Diego Chargers.

    "He's remarkable," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He wants to be the best. Ever. I know he's the best I've ever seen."

    Schottenheimer has seen most of the great ones in the 40 years he has been around the NFL. He was a teammate of Gale Sayers at the old College All-Star Game.

    He played against O.J. Simpson and Floyd Little in his AFL days. He coached against Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton in the 1980s and Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith in the 1990s.

    "There's a certain presence about L.T. on and off the field," Schottenheimer said.

    But for the longest time, no one noticed that presence. No one seemed to even want to notice that presence. Take it all the way back to his high school days in Waco.

    "I played fullback until my senior year," Tomlinson said. "Then I popped on the scene and had 2,500 yards and 39 touchdowns.

    "But nobody really recruited me: TCU, Baylor, North Texas, UTEP ... teams like that. I went on a visit to Kansas State but they didn't offer me. A&M was waiting on another running back and didn't offer me. I was overlooked."

    So Tomlinson chose TCU. He had a respectable freshman season coming off the bench in 1997, rushing for 538 yards and six touchdowns. In the spring of his sophomore year, Tomlinson beat out incumbent tailback Basil Mitchell.

    But first-year coach Dennis Franchione had other ideas.

    "During fall camp, Fran came to me and told me he wanted me to play fullback," Tomlinson said. "I said, 'Sure, Fran, I'll do it.' Basil had a couple good games, and when they did move me back to tailback, there was no way I was going to be the starter because he'd been playing so well."

    Mitchell graduated after the season, and Tomlinson took over. He became the third player in NCAA history to win back-to-back rushing titles and just the second to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and 5,000 in a career. Tomlinson left TCU as the NCAA's sixth all-time leading rusher.

    But the caliber of competition continued to dog Tomlinson. His 2,000 yards came in a schedule that included Arkansas State, Hawaii, Navy and Nevada. So he still had his share of doubters in the NFL.

    "I went to the Senior Bowl and told myself I'm going to answer the question about this competition thing once and for all," Tomlinson said.

    Playing against defenders from the Pac-10, Big Ten and Big 12, Tomlinson rolled up 118 yards rushing and receiving and was named the game's MVP.

    "What else could I do?" Tomlinson said. "I passed everybody [on the draft board] except for Deuce [McAllister], and we were neck-and-neck."

    Until the NFL combine a month later in Indianapolis. But there still was skepticism about his speed. Tomlinson heard those doubts with his own ears at D/FW Airport.

    "I remember getting on the plane," Tomlinson said. "The Cowboys coaches were on the same plane and asked me, 'Are you going to at least run a 4.5?' I thought, 'Are you kidding me?'

    "When I got there, they asked me if I was even going to run. I said of course I'm going to run – and I ran a 4.3."

    That shot Tomlinson past McAllister at running back on the draft board and into the top five. The Chargers nabbed him with the fifth overall pick.

    Tomlinson finished ninth in the NFL in rushing as a rookie with 1,236 yards, then finished second in 2002 and third in 2003, both times topping 1,600 yards.

    Tomlinson also caught a team-record 100 passes in 2003 – but again was overlooked. Even though his 2,370 yards from scrimmage was second most in NFL history, Tomlinson wasn't even selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team.

    "That bothered me," Tomlinson said. "But the reason that happened is we only won four games. No one paid attention to my season. What I was doing on the West Coast was getting overlooked by the rest of America.

    "Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,000, Priest Holmes was having a great year, Clinton Portis was having a great year – and all their teams were winning. They were playing prime-time games and their teams were going to the playoffs."

    Tomlinson rectified the situation in 2004. He rushed for 1,335 yards and an NFL-high 17 touchdowns for a team that won 12 games and captured the AFC West. That earned him a return trip to Hawaii after a year's absence.

    Tomlinson expects another trip to Hawaii next February. He has two goals that remain unfulfilled as he enters his fifth NFL season. Tomlinson has never won a rushing title, and his team has never won a Super Bowl. He hopes the first goal can pave the way for the second.

    So look out, Eric Dickerson.

    "My goal is 2,000 yards," Tomlinson said. "My goal is to break [Dickerson's NFL season] record. I believe it's 2,105. That gives me something to shoot for."

    Is anyone doubting Tomlinson now?

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