SAYRE, Pa. – Former NFL star running back LaDainian Tomlinson is trying to help young football players in ways that weren’t available to him when he was a kid growing up in Texas.
Tomlinson is bringing the LaDainian Tomlinson Preparatory Academy’s Elite Football Performance Clinic to Athens Area High School for the second year in a row this week. The chance to see players from his clinics go on to college is one of his own rewards.
“For us, it’s like a kid graduating,” Tomlinson said Thursday during a press conference at the BriMarie Inn restaurant. “Like we birthed a kid, we raised a kid and watched him graduate and get out of the house now.
“We’re watching some of these kids grow up and come through the process and then hopefully eventually realize their dreams of playing at the collegiate level.”
The clinic, for players in grades 6-11, will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Walk-up registration is welcome Friday at a cost of $199. A youth sports clinic for ages 5-10 will be held from 8 a.m. to noon Sunday at the school at a cost of $40.
Tomlinson, 36, rushed for 13,684 yards during an 11-season NFL career. He played for the San Diego Chargers from 2001 to 2009 and the New York Jets in 2010 and 2011. The Chargers will retire his jersey during the upcoming season and he is almost certainly a future Pro Football Hall of Famer. He ranks fifth on the NFL’s career rushing list.
Growing up in a small town in Texas, Tomlinson said some of the guidance and training techniques available through his clinic weren’t available to him.
“The stuff we’re doing know, who knows, if I had that I might have run for 20,000 yards,” joked Tomlinson, an All-American at Texas Christian University known widely as “L.T.”
The academy was started in 2011 and its roots date back even longer, with Tomlinson and staff holding camps for more than 10 years.
He said the focus is on three things at the academy: character, education and performance. In addition to stressing the importance of education in the classroom, Tomlin’s academy teaches players the ins and outs of the recruiting process so they can get themselves noticed by college scouts.
As a 12-year-old, Tomlinson attended a camp run by former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jay Novacek. That laid the groundwork for his own academy.
“Even at that time, at 12 years old, I thought to myself, ‘You know what, this is cool. If I ever was successful in playing football, I would do the same thing,’ ” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson also had the chance to meet Cowboys great Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s career rushing leader. That made a big impression.
“When I got a chance to meet Emmitt Smith, the confidence that I gained from getting to look at this guy, to just size him up, it was tremendous for me,” Tomlinson said. “I know what that does for a kid in an area like this that probably doesn’t see a lot of celebrities or pro athletes.”
The camp gives potential future college players a good idea of whether they have the will and skill to make it at that level by measuring themselves against other players with similar goals. Tomlinson said they offer “college-style workouts” that are very demanding.
“I definitely feel lucky and this area should feel real lucky,” Athens varsity football coach Jack Young said. “Undoubtedly we’ve got a Hall of Famer here. All you’ve got to do is spend a few minutes with the guy and he is a class act. You can understand real quick why he’s been successful in every avenue of life. I think that’s what he’s trying to share here. Hopefully as we go on here, our community will embrace this and it will just keep getting bigger and better.”
Several other highly regarded coaches and former players will help with the clinics. Former Chargers lineman Michael Keathley is among the group. Tomlinson also puts himself in the mix on the playing field at his clinics.
“I cover the kids during practice. They call me out,” he said. “They think I’m old now. I’m not that old. I’ve only been retired four years now.”
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare