DALLAS (FWAA) Duke offensive guard
Laken Tomlinson is the winner or the 2014 Orange
Bowl-FWAA Courage Award.
Tomlinson, a 6-3, 330-pound senior from Chicago (Lane Tech),
has started 51 consecutive games and has helped the Blue Devils
(9-3) score 390 points this season, the third-most in program history.
Duke's offensive line leads the country in fewest tackles-for-loss
per game allowed with just 3.33 and has surrendered just 13.0 sacks,
tied for the 13th fewest in the nation.
But Tomlinson just making a college roster and winding up in
Durham was a challenge. Duke's current football captain offers a
slightly different version of the "The Blind Side," the famous story
of Michael Oher, who came from a broken family in Memphis, lived
in numerous foster homes, and eventually became a star offensive
tackle at Ole Miss and then on to the NFL.
"I am both grateful and humbled to be honored by the Football
Writers Association of America and the Orange Bowl with this award,"
said Tomlinson, who will finish his Duke career against Arizona
State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 27. "My mother has been the
greatest influence on my life, and none of this recognition would
be possible without her sacrifice, love and support.
"It means the world to me to make her proud. If not for her,
I could still be in Jamaica, living a life of poverty. Every time
I go home or have an opportunity to talk to my mother, she always
tells me before she hangs up, 'Laken, I love you and I'm extremely
proud of you and everything that you do for our family. Keep doing
what you are doing. The Lord has a plan for you, Laken.'"
Tomlinson grew up in Jamaica and came to this country when he
was 10. He gained about 80 pounds and grew seven inches within his
first year in the United States and could have passed for a person
much older. Eventually, because of his intelligence, Tomlinson wound
up in a mentoring program and, despite early concerns of his mother,
lived with the family of Bob Sperling, a Chicago-based attorney.
When Tomlinson first was introduced to football because his sister
believed his size offered him the opportunity, he thought they were
referring to soccer. His abilities grew on the football field and
he eventually was recruited by Big Ten Schools. But Duke and head
coach David Cutcliffe, caught his eye. Tomlinson wanted to be a
doctor and someday may fulfill that goal.
"First and foremost, congratulations to Laken on this incredible
honor," Cutcliffe said. "Laken is a very gifted student-athlete
in all senses of the phrase, and we are fortunate and proud to have
him in our program. Obviously, he is an outstanding player on the
field, and his journey to Duke is something of a storybook tale.
I know he is humbled to receive this honor. And certainly not to
be forgotten, thank you to the Football Writers Association of America
as well as the Orange Bowl for sponsoring this award."
A first team All-ACC choice in each of the last two seasons,
Tomlinson has been selected to participate in the Reese's Senior
Bowl and also is one of 11 student-athletes named to the 2014 Allstate
AFCA Good Works Team.
The Courage Award was first presented by the FWAA in 2002. A
select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year.
The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or
off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap,
preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of
the award will be included in festivities during Orange Bowl week
and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.
Previous winners of the FWAA's Courage Award are San José
State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver
Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur
Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the
University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa's Wilson Holloway
(2008), Navy's Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey
(2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen
(2004), San José State's Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William
The Orange Bowl is a 360-member, primarily-volunteer
non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South
Florida community. The Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule
of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl on December
31, 2014. Other Orange Bowl core events include the MetroPCS Orange
Bowl Basketball Classic, Orange Bowl Youth Football Alliance presented
by Sports Authority, Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships,
Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta, Orange Bowl Swim Classic
and Orange Bowl Paddle Championships. For more information on the
2014-15 Orange Bowl events, including promotional and volunteer
opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera
Bread, log on to www.orangebowl.org.
The Football Writers Association of America,
a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of 1,400 men
and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists,
broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the
areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that
include gameday operations, major awards and its annual All-America
team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs,
contact Steve Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-870-6516.
2014 Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees
Sept. 17: Deon Hill, Georgia Tech
Sept. 24: Ian Frye, Virginia
Oct. 1: Zack Golditch, Colorado State
Oct. 8: Josh Clemons, Kentucky
Oct. 15: Shon Coleman, Auburn
Oct. 22: Rori Blair, Pittsburgh
Oct. 29: Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville
Nov. 5: Laken Tomlinson, Duke
Nov. 12: Kyle McCarthy, Notre Dame
Nov. 19: Jarvis Byrd, N.C. State
Bowl Courage Award