Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 11/21/12
LaDainian Tomlinson may have stopped playing football, but he's never stopped working. Since retiring from NFL after the 2011 season, Tomlinson has increased his efforts to give back to the communities that helped him. His many projects include the creation of the 1st Down Club to honor high school players in Northwest Texas and a recent donation drive to provide Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. "I think this is something that for me, it completes who I want to be," Tomlinson said. "Not only as an individual, as a family man having kids now, wanting them to grow up and always have a giving spirit." Tomlinson has already done much through his Tomlinson's Touching Lives Foundation, created when played for the San Diego Chargers, where he spent the first nine of his 11 seasons as an NFL running back. He retired after two seasons with the New York Jets and moved back to the Fort Worth area to raise his 2-year-old son, Daylen, and 1-year-old daughter, Dayah. Fort Worth is where Tomlinson made his first splash on the national scene as a TCU Horned Frog, where he set records and became a Heisman Trophy finalist. While in the NFL, Tomlinson returned every off-season to host youth football camps at TCU and in Waco, near his hometown of Rosebud, Texas. "I went to school at TCU, I'm a TCU guy," said Tomlinson, who said he learned to give back to the community while he was in college. "I felt it was only fair to do the same thing with our kids today." Tomlinson's latest venture is the 1st Down Club of Northwest Texas, which will hold its inaugural awards banquet Dec. 6 at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth. The awards will honor deserving Class 4A-5A high school football players from the area defined as Lewisville and Coppell to the east, Weatherford to the west, Wichita Falls to the north and Waco to the south. "When I was in San Diego they always had these banquets to honor high school, college and even professional athletes," Tomlinson said. "When I got back here I knew it was something I wanted to do." The awards will honor both Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, plus a Coach of the Year. Finalists for Offensive Player of the Year are: Austin Davis, Mansfield; Cameron Smith, Coppell; Kenny Hill, Southlake Carroll; Andrew Billings, Waco High; Kyle Hicks, Arlington Martin and Marchie Murdock, Mansfield Legacy. Finalists for Defensive Player of the Year are: Gunner Johnson, Aledo; Chad Whitener, Mansfield; William Udeh, Coppell; Graysen Schantz, Lake Dallas; Tanner Jacobson, Southlake Carroll and Sammy Douglas, Arlington Martin. An advisory board of area high school football coaches helped select the finalists, to ensure the honorees are leaders among their peers - both on and off the field. "I think we all see the value in boosting our young kids up, kids that are doing some wonderful things in our community," Tomlinson said. "In return, they will come back and make the community better." One of the things Tomlinson is looking forward to is getting to know the young athletes. "You build relationships," Tomlinson said. "When I was in San Diego, Reggie Bush was in high school and I went to the banquet where he was honored. We're still really good friends." Tomlinson said there was no such to meet professional athletes when he was playing at Waco's University High. "I wanted to be able to talk to Emmitt Smith. I think just a little connection to motivate kids can really go a long way," Tomlinson said. "I can relate to these young men, knowing that I was in their position at one point." It's not just football advice Tomlinson dispenses when he meets young people. "I get a lot of questions from these young kids about peer pressure," Tomlinson said. "It's great for them to have somebody to open up to about that stuff." A multitude of questions is also why Tomlinson serves on the advisory board of FreeRecruitingWebinar.org, a service that provides free advice for parents and athletes trying to navigate the world of college recruiting. To teach kids the skills they need on the football field, Tomlinson founded the LaDainian Tomlinson Prepartory Academy. The FreeRecruitingWebinar.org site helps them market their schools as well as find out which core courses and other requirements are needed to be eligible for scholarships. It's a service Tomlinson wishes he had available to him when he was being recruited. "No question," Tomlinson said. "My mom, she didn't have any idea what it took to go to college. If we would have had this free recruiting webinar, it would have been so much better." Tomlinson said both the academy and the recruiting webinar can help kids of all talent levels, including those who might have opportunities in NCAA Division II or NAIA. "I think there's a lot of kids that have the talent to play at the next level, but they don't know how to do it," Tomlinson said. "This way we can reach those kids so that they can get an education." Not all of Tomlinson's post-NFL endeavors are football-related. His foundation recently partnered with Albertson's Market stores and the local NBC station to gather donations to feed Thanksgiving meals to 2,100 families in need. Whether it's helping young people or hungry families, Tomlinson has proven to be as tireless in retirement as he was on the football field. "Everyone can't do this type of thing," Tomlinson said, "because you have to be passionate about it." The inaugural 1st Down Club of Northwest Texas football awards banquet is set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Omni Hotel in downtown Fort Worth. For information on sponsorship opportunities and tickets, contact the Tomlinson's Touching Lives Foundation at 817-717-8801 or visit www.TomlinsonsTouchingLives.com. Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire
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