Laken Tomlinson has a unique past (born in Jamaica, he moved to Chicago as a child) and plans for an exceptional future (he's interested in medical school, neuroscience and neurosurgery). But for now, he's focusing on the 2015 NFL Draft. In a diary entry for NFL Media, the former Duke guard explains what it's like to get ready for a career in the NFL.
The most challenging part of preparing for the draft so far has been finding time to sit down.
As busy as I was as a student-athlete at Duke, this has been one of the busiest times of my life. I've been traveling to visit with teams, doing private workouts, making sure I'm staying in shape and working out. Every day, it seems like I'm in another city. Especially since my pro day ended, it feels like I haven't really had much free time.
But I'm also excited about everything that's been happening. I know that, come draft day, I'll be rewarded -- and not just with having my name called. I actually had the opportunity to be invited to the draft this year, and the fact that it's going to be in Chicago, my hometown, is just magical. It's a dream. Just to be in my hometown -- where my mom and all my family and friends will be, supporting me -- I think is going to make for one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Things got hectic immediately after my college season ended, right after my last game with Duke was over. I flew back to school to interview agents. I traveled to the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl, to accept the National Courage Award and the AFCA Good Works Team Award, respectively. After that, I picked my agents (Andrew Kessler and Carmen Wallace of Athletes First) and started planning out the next few months. And I decided to go to California to train for the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine under Ryan Capretta, the head trainer at ProActive, and coach Pat Harlow.
I worked with other football players from different universities who were prepping to venture down the same path, guys like Rob Havenstein (Wisconsin), Tyler Lockett (Kansas State), Maxx Williams (Minnesota) and Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville). Before I started, I was worried the people I was training with would have different mentalities about the game and approach it differently than I did. But as soon as I got to California, it became clear that everybody was together; everyone wanted to work hard together. With a common goal in front of us, it was like we formed a team within ourselves. We all wanted to make the most of our potential. They were just a bunch of good guys, and the camaraderie helped me get through the very tough training process.
I went to the Senior Bowl, in Mobile, Alabama, a day early, because I was traveling from the West Coast. And on that first night, I remember kind of freaking out about who my roommate would be. Would he snore? Would he stay up until 2 a.m. talking to his mom or his girlfriend or something? You just never know, and that's something you don't control. The next day, I stepped out for a bit, and when I returned, I saw stuff in my room, and I looked, and it said "Duke" on it. So I texted my former Duke teammate, Jamison Crowder, and found out he was going to be my roommate. When that happened, I was so happy; we were going to go through this process as teammates, and bring the same thing we did at Duke to the Senior Bowl. It was great, motivation-wise, for both of us; it was awesome.
At the Senior Bowl, I met with the Tennessee Titans' football staff and was introduced to a part of their playbook, which I was supposed to have memorized before practice each day. I had a blast and worked hard to do whatever the coaches wanted me to do. I also had the opportunity to meet with a lot of NFL coaches from different organizations and tell them about my life and the path I've chosen for myself. I had a solid performance, then returned to California to continue training for the combine.
I was part of the first group to report to Indianapolis for the combine -- and I was surprised by just how many things you have to do there. And I'm talking about the stuff you have to do before drill day, the stuff most people don't see: the physical evaluations, the medical evaluations, the media interviews, the meetings. We were busy pretty much every hour of every day. When you go in at night, you barely have time to sleep, and then you have to get up early the next day and get going. Ultimately, I had a lot of fun, especially once we got to the famous drills everyone was waiting for. Reaching that point, though, required plenty of mental stamina.
The team meetings, of course, were great; I really enjoyed that part of it, speaking with different coaches and telling them about my story, where I'm from, my background. I felt like they needed to know who I am and what I've been through. We also talked a lot of football -- and coming out of the program that coach David Cutcliffe has put together at Duke, I felt extremely confident about that part. They put me on the board, to see how smart I was, and I was pretty much able to do the things they asked me to do.
As crazy as this pre-draft period has been, it's an exciting feeling to be able to focus 100 percent on football for the first time in my life. I always knew I wanted to play this game, but I didn't always know I'd make it this far. If you asked me when I was a freshman in high school, I never would have guessed I'd be on this track. Football has opened up doors, and it's opening up more as I move along.
It's taken a lot to get here, a lot of work, not only on my part but on the part of the many people who have supported me over the years. And it's obviously far from over. But right now, I'm enjoying the ride.