CHICAGO -- The project arrived at Richard Rio's doorstep eight years ago, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound raw package of smarts, skill and savvy. Laken Tomlinson looked as if he was on his way to college before he even made it to high school. Yet he still had trouble putting his pads on the right way; while he was big, he wasn't strong; and he had little understanding of the commitment required to play American football.
His mother had brought him to Lane Tech, a prestigious public school located on the north side of the city. Audrey Wilson wanted the second of her four children to get involved in sports. So she took Tomlinson to the Indians' campus when he was an eighth-grader, where he met the man who would hold the keys to his future.
"I said to one of my assistants, 'They probably need some directions to the junior college or a college or something,'" said Rio, then the head coach at Lane Tech. "But his mother came up and said, 'This is my son, Laken Tomlinson.' And I said, 'How can I help you? What school does he go to?' She said, 'He's going to come to Lane.' I said, 'What?'"
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