LaDainian Tomlinson’s high school campus no longer exists. A new Waco University High School opened in 2011, and commercial establishments now occupy the old site along I-35. But the gridiron feats LT performed for the Trojans endured and brought him to the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “Texas football is rich with tradition and history. Texas is recognized around the country as playing the best (high school) football.”
Tomlinson progressed slowly in high school football. After playing his freshman year at Marlin, he moved to Waco and enrolled at University. When he signed up for football, the Trojans had experienced running backs, and coaches plugged in the sophomore at blocking back and linebacker.
LT labored for two years before moving to tailback as a senior. In breakout fashion, he rushed for 2,554 yards and 39 touchdowns, leading the Trojans to a 12-2-1 record and a Class 4A state quarterfinal berth. The Waco Tribune-Herald named him the Super Centex Offensive Player of the Year.
“My senior year was the greatest,” he said. “We took the Trojans further than they ever had before. It was a really special season.”
Success continued for Tomlinson at TCU. Twice he led the nation in rushing and gained 406 yards in a 52-24 win over UTEP in 1999. As a senior, LT won the Doak Walker Award and finished his collegiate career with 5,263 rushing yards, ranking sixth in NCAA Division I history.
The San Diego Chargers selected Tomlinson fifth overall in the 2001 NFL draft. While with the Chargers, he played in five Pro Bowls and won MVP honors in 2006, rushing for 1,815 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns.
In 11 NFL seasons, nine with San Diego and two with the New York Jets, LT gained 13,684 yards and scored 145 touchdowns. He also caught 624 passes for 4,772 yards and 17 touchdowns. An excellent passer, Tomlinson threw seven career touchdown passes, ranking second for non-quarterbacks behind Walter Payton who tossed eight.
Tomlinson gains eligibility for the NFL Hall of Fame next year. Little doubt exists he will enter it on the first ballot.
“That’s the Mecca,” he stated. “Growing up, you’ve always heard the greats go to Canton.”
Tomlinson credits much of the success he achieved on the gridiron and in retirement to the lessons he learned working his first job. LT learned the ropes behind the counter at Bush’s Chicken in Waco. Nothing quite compares to the pressure of satisfying hungry customers and keeping a commercial kitchen operating simultaneously.
“Mr. Bush gave me my first job, and I was very grateful,” he said. “He taught me what it meant to work hard and develop a work ethic.”