MOBILE, Ala. — Louis Trinca-Pasat needed some encouragement. After a position change at Iowa with the requisite body transformation, he was frustrated and considered moving on from football.
“I had never played [defensive] tackle and I was thrown in there and I was a guy getting beat up,” Trinca-Pasat said of his experiences in December, 2011, against future NFL offensive linemen. “It took me a while to used to that position. I’m really hard on myself. I set my expectations high. When I couldn’t get there and kept getting beat on, beat on, beat on, I was like I’m not playing how I want to play. I don’t know if this position is right for me.”
Trinca-Pasat turned to his family back in Chicago. He leaned on his coaches. But it was an old friend’s heartfelt words that made the difference.
Laken Tomlinson, a guard at Duke and a former high-school teammate, convinced him to forge ahead.
“I’ll never forget one thing that Laken told me, ‘Man, if you quit, what am I going to do without you?’ ” Trinca-Pasat recalled. “That’s one thing that really resonated with me aside from my family and coaches. I wanted to stick this ride out and be with my brother.”
That would be in the NFL.
Trinca-Pasat and Tomlinson were stars at Lane Tech, graduating in 2010, and were prized recruits with scholarship offers from all over the country.
After successful college careers, the close friends have the NFL’s attention at the prestigious Senior Bowl this week in Mobile, Alabama.
“He’s been my best friend since high school,” Tomlinson said. “We both had NFL dreams and that was kind of the superglue that stuck us together.”
Public League pride
The Public League has never won a state title, but it has a rich history of players in the NFL. It’s responsible for icons such as George Halas, Knute Rockne, Fritz Pollard and Dick Butkus.
Recent arrivals include Simeon’s Nate Palmer (Packers linebacker, sixth-round pick in 2013) and Zach Moore (Patriots defensive lineman, seventh-round pick in 2014). In 2008, Hyde Park saw linebacker Joe Mays become a sixth-round pick of the Eagles and tight end Chris Hopkins sign with the Giants as a rookie free agent.
But Tomlinson and Trinca-Pasat stand out now because of their Senior Bowl invites. Both players also were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“It is pretty special,” said Mickey Pruitt, a former Bears linebacker and current CPS football coordinator. “It’s a special moment for Lane, for them and for the Chicago Public League.”
“It’s rare, especially coming from a city school and especially on the North Side,” Trinca-Pasat said. “You don’t see this.”
“We’re representing the community,” Tomlinson said. “Not only does it speak for Lane but the entire CPS also.”
Sharing similar stories
The menu is southern, and Trinca-Pasat and Tomlinson make quick work of their shrimp with grits, collard greens, mashed potatoes, fried chicken and more.
Seated side by side, it felt just like good ole’ days at Lane when they would walk across the street for lunch at Subway. They made fun of each other, remembered old friends and went over the glory days, including Lane’s city-title victory against Hubbard in 2008.
“My man right here got a really cool catch in the end zone of 48 or 50 yards,” Tomlinson said with a nod at Trinca-Pasat. “He used to play everywhere.”
Trinca-Pasat and Tomlinson became friends almost on arrival at Lane. Their size, athletic abilities and NFL dreams helped them hit it off. But their unique backgrounds connected them forever.
“[Tomlinson] had a rough life growing up,” Trinca-Pasat said. “To see him be able to handle that and do well in school and football, that’s the kind of guy you look for.”
Tomlinson was born in Jamaica. He came to the United States in March of 2003 with his mother, a single parent, and his three siblings.
It’s a story full of unique cultural differences to overcome and early-morning commutes from Rogers Park to Lane that has earned national recognition. He would stay home from school to babysit his younger siblings when his mother worked. His mother needed to be convinced of the importance of football.
“He had a very long, difficult road but always with a dream,” said Bob Sperling, a partner at Winston and Strawn LLP who became a mentor for Tomlinson in eighth grade through the Youth Guidance program. “[The Senior Bowl] is really a culmination of a very long, hard journey.”
Trinca-Pasat is the son of Romanian immigrants. His family left its home country in the late 1980’s to escape communism and also settled in Rogers Park.
“They thought they didn’t have a bright future there,” he said.
Of his five siblings, Trinca-Pasat is the only one born in United States and the only one to play sports. His older brothers needed to convince his parents to let him play football.
“My parents were strictly church and school,” he said.
Neither played football until their freshman year at Lane.
Ready for the NFL
Rich Rio was stunned. The longtime Lane coach was being inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame last spring in Champaign and his stars showed up.
“Unbeknownst to me, they found time,” said Rio, who is now retired. “Laken flying in from Duke and Louis coming from Iowa. It kind of just shows you what kind of kids they are with everything they had on their plate.”
Rio said that NFL teams will learn that it’s the intangibles that make Tomlinson and Trinca-Pasat special. Both players met with the Bears this week.
“They are just very grounded, loyal kids,” Rio said.
They also were leaders at Lane and captains in college. Every year, they improved on the field, their coaches said, and excelled academically off the field. Trinca-Pasat has a master’s degree in educational leadership. Tomlinson majored in psychology and evolutionary anthropology.
But for now, “Their dream is to play against each other,” Rio said.
Tomlinson, a first-team All-American, will be the higher selection, possibly in the second round. Duke offensive line coach John Latina said Tomlinson’s ability to powerfully finish blocks separates him.
“I’ve had many, many guys throughout my career go to the NFL and I would have to put him in the top echelon of that group,” Latina said. “He brings outstanding qualities.”
Trinca-Pasat, a second-team all-Big Ten selection by coaches in 2014, is projected to be a mid-round selection.
Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan said visiting scouts have marveled at his nonstop motor and handwork. He called him Iowa’s quickest defensive lineman, who turned his early adversity into a three-year run as a starter.
“He’s a great technician,” Morgan said. “A lot of the NFL scouts that have come in and they watch practice tape say, ‘This guy is a really go-getter. He’s really productive.’ ”
Tomlinson and Trinca-Pasat kept tabs on each other’s college careers, watching on TV and the internet when they could.
“You see him now, he’s so dominant,” Trinca-Pasat said.
“Obviously, he’s a beast,” Tomlinson said.
And they’re about to enter the NFL together.