FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – To see Ladainian Tomlinson today, one would find it hard to feel sorry for him.
For starters, he’s rich, having amassed fame and fortune as a professional football player after dazzling football fans for TCU in the late 1990s.
But Ladainian was not always LT, the name some felt more befitting his stature as a sports star.
Instead, he was a 16-year-old kid in his hometown of Waco, working as a fry cook at a fast-food chicken joint and playing standout football for University High.
It was there that LT began to turn heads, in his work ethic and in his running abilities.
Then college scouts began to circle.
And that scared him.
In an exclusive interview with CBS 11’s Adrienne Bankert, Ladainian talked about his hopes, his dreams and his fears, as he grappled with leaving the comforts of his family for the rough-and-tumble world of big-time football.
“I’m going to be honest with you, there were times when …I felt like, ‘Do I really want to do this,’” LT told Bankert.
First, colleges wanted to know everything about Ladainian, both on the field and off. There were tests to take, background checks to pass and people to meet.
“I was 16 years old,” LT said. “A sense of anxiety actually hit me.”
Now, fresh from retiring from the pros, LT has moved back to North Texas and has started the Ladainian Tomlinson Preparatory Academy for boys and girls, starting in the 6th grade and going through high school.
His goal: To teach not only the athletic skills needed to succeed on the field, but also the knowledge and confidence needed to deal with pressures heaped on kids and their families by the NCAA.
“There’s a period where you make the transition from high school to college that’s very confusing … there’s a big void in that area that we needed to attack,” Tomlinson said, adding:
“Quite frankly, a lot of parents don’t know. I mean, my mother didn’t know when I was getting recruited …she had no idea.”
Tomlinson said he has modeled his academy after one that he attended when he was in eighth grade. It was put on by an equally successful athlete of that time.
“Emmitt Smith changed my life when I was in junior high school. I … got a chance to go to his camp. Just being able to touch him, I thought, ‘You know what, I can do it,’” LT recalled.
During one of Tomlinson’s recent youth clinics at TCU, kids practiced tackling and zig-zagged through running drills.
They also attended leadership classes and even got a one-on-one with the man who almost certainly will one day be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“If you want to be good and successful in life guys, you gotta do good in school,” LT told them.“ … so always listen to your teachers … do your homework … and most importantly, listen to your parents.“
“When they tell you, ‘Make your bed,’ let’s make your bed,” he continued. “When they tell you to take the trash out, what are we going to do?”
With astonished parents looking on in disbelief, the kids shouted out the answer: “Take the trash out!”
It’s that type of enthusiasm, admittedly helped along by being in the presence of a champion, that just might turn these children into star players – both on and off the field, Tomlinson said.
“If I can help just one kid that can remember something that we taught them,” he added, “then it’s all worth it.”