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June 22, 2012In some respects LaDainian Tomlinson's now completed NFL career bookends the timeframe of where the TCU football program was and where it is now.
With construction cranes buzzing in the background to ready the new-look Amon Carter Stadium for the 2012 season, the 2000 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner met with the Fort Worth-Dallas media days after he announced his retirement after 11 seasons.
"It's kind of like having a baby,'' Tomlinson said. "You're raising it because you always want what's best for them. When I was there, we were slighted because we couldn't go against the big boys. Now, to see them go to the Big 12, go to the Rose Bowl and beat the Big 10 is great. They're big boys, and it's time to play ball.''
It can be fair to say that every program needs that defining player who helps usher it from ordinary to extraordinary. Tomlinson rushed for a program-best 5,263 yards and led the nation in rushing his junior (1999) and senior (2000) seasons.
In the 11 seasons after Tomlinson left, TCU football has collected eight 10-win seasons and seven 11-win seasons. Tack on a Fiesta Bowl appearance and Rose Bowl victory and the growth speaks for itself. On July 1, TCU becomes a full member of the Big 12.
"TCU does a great thing of hiring inhouse,'' Tomlinson said. "When [head coach] Gary Patterson took over, there was no drop off. He was ready to go.''
Tomlinson said there was no doubt that this was the time to leave the game. He didn't have any second thoughts. This was a game that he played for 20 years but the thought of attending another training camp just didn't seem to be appealing.
His career between the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets defined a runner who knew he couldn't take tacklers straight on but avoid them and run away from them. His 13,684 rushing yards rank fifth all time. Before he retired, he signed a one-day contract with the Chargers this past Monday.
What struck TCU head coach Gary Patterson about Tomlinson was how he saw a little-regarded running back from Waco University turn his opportunity to play Division I college football into a career that shaped both him and his university.
"He was a self-made person,'' Patterson said. "When you saw him on Champions Hill, he was doing more. I remember one spring he was 4.62 and 210 and the next year he was 220 and 4.37. I had to see if the stopwatch was broken he's done more for TCU off the field than on it.''
Tomlinson said he has a couple of businesses that he is working with, will explore broadcasting with one of the networks and continue his efforts with the LaDanian Tomlinson Prep Academy, which will help aspiring college football players.