Pursuing double dreams

Aug. 06, 2014 @ 07:57 AM

At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing 330 pounds, Duke senior Laken Tomlinson is one powerful offensive guard on the Blue Devils’ newly ascendant football team.

Tomlinson is, according to his biography on the GoDuke.com website, “named to the preseason Watch List for the Outland Trophy, an honor presented annually by the Football Writers Association of America to the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman ... candidate for the Rotary Lombardi Award, an honor presented by the Rotary Club of Houston to the nation’s top lineman ...”

With those credentials, Tomlinson is widely expected to fulfill his aspiration for a career in the National Football League.

But, wait, that’s not all he aspires to.

With a double major in evolutionary anthropology and psychology, he intends to follow his pro football days with a career as a neurosurgeon. 

To that end, Tomlinson this summer has been doing more than just working out with his teammates in preparation for a season that begins in less than a month.

He has been shadowing Dr. Carlos Bagley, a neurosurgeon at Duke University Hospital.

“I have aspirations for being a doctor one day,” Tomlinson told The Herald-Sun’s Steve Wiseman, who chronicled the player’s medical career plans in Sunday’s paper.

“It’s been an awesome experience shadowing Dr. Bagley and I definitely enjoyed being with him and seeing all the stuff he is doing.”n

Bagley, too, played football at Duke before attending medical school, but college was the end of his gridiron career.  He has high hopes for Tomlinson’s post-NFL plans.

“It’s going to be awesome to watch his career, not only on the football side but also professionally on the medical side to watch that all play out,” Bagley told Wiseman. “I think he’s going to be able to do great things on both sides.”

We mention this story for a couple of reasons. First, it is just an inspiring narrative about a young man who as a child lived in an impoverished neighborhood in Jamaica and now is on the cusp of the American dream on many levels.

It also is an encouraging tale for those – often, this page included – who worry whether major-college sports and world-class academic standards can coexist.

A single anecdote, of course, doesn’t definitively dismiss that concern.  But the Tomlinson story does lend credence to Duke’s professed belief it can lift its long-mediocre football program to truly competitive levels – it had its best season in history last fall – while still recruiting players that can not just survive but thrive in Duke’s academic environment.

For Tomlinson, Bagley said, “it’s not that he wants to be (a doctor), but that he is serious about it….To put the effort not only on the practice field and the weight room, but also when you are over in biochem or in the chemistry lab, putting the same sort of effort in there.”

We suspect we’ll hear much more about Laken Tomlinson, on the playing field and in the medical field.