From Jamaica to Seattle: The Seahawks’ new ironman left guard

Jun 19, 2024, 4:15 PM | Updated: 4:17 pm

Seattle Seahawks Laken Tomlinson Jets 2023...

Seattle Seahawks left guard Laken Tomlinson looks on while playing for the New York Jets in 2023. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks left guard Laken Tomlinson is one of the NFL’s ultimate ironmen.

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Despite playing one of football’s most physical positions, the 32-year-old veteran has shown an astounding level of durability over the course of his nine-year career.

Tomlinson, who signed a one-year contract with Seattle in April, has started 120 consecutive regular-season and postseason games dating back to Week 2 of 2017. He’s missed only one game in his entire career. And over the past five seasons combined, he’s missed a grand total of just four offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference.

How does he do it?

“First, knock on wood, thank God,” Tomlinson said last week during Seahawks minicamp. “I’ve been extremely lucky to be playing this long with good health. But I also put a lot of work into it as well. … I see myself as a player that’s extremely dedicated in the offseason, and I put a lot of work into my body. My body’s my job. So I’ve been blessed, but I also work really hard.”

In all, Tomlinson has logged 138 starts and more than 9,000 snaps at left guard over a career that’s spanned two seasons with the Detroit Lions, five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and the past two seasons with the New York Jets.

Tomlinson is projected to take over as Seattle’s starting left guard, a role Damien Lewis held the past three seasons before departing in free agency.

“For offensive linemen, you want to be the guy they can count on, the guy that’s accountable,” Tomlinson said. “So I take a lot of pride in that. … It’s my job. My job is to be there for the team.”

‘They had a dream for our family’

Tomlinson also takes great pride in his Jamaican heritage. He was born in Jamaica and spent the first decade of his childhood living on the western coast of the island country.

“We didn’t have a lot, but I had a lot of fun growing up with my siblings and cousins,” he said. “They have a saying in Jamaica: ‘Out of many, one people.’ … It’s a really rich culture, man. I love it.”

While growing up in Jamaica, Tomlinson never dreamed of NFL career.

“I didn’t know anything about football growing up at all,” Tomlinson said. “When you say football in Jamaica, we think soccer.”

According to The Athletic, Tomlinson’s grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. Over the span of decades, they earned enough money and obtained visas for each of their 10 children and respective family members to join them. At age 11 in 2003, Tomlinson and his family made the move and settled in Chicago.

“They’re the reason why I’m here,” he said. “They had a dream for our family.”

At the time, Tomlinson said he was a “small kid” who looked nothing like his current 6-foot-3, 323-pound self. That quickly started to change.

“My grandma had like everything in the fridge, man,” Tomlinson said. “She took real good care of us, made sure we were eating every day. I’d never had a hamburger (or) pizza before. Pizza Hut was right there. So my first summer, I gained like 60 pounds and grew like six inches. My body just like exploded. But my mom saw it and she was like, ‘You need to get out of the house.'”

That’s where football came in. His uncle recommended he try the sport.

“I was like, ‘Anything that makes my mom happy.’ I just wanted her to be happy,” he said. “So my mom brought me out for practice, and man, here I am.”

‘Something that’s truly a part of me’

Football isn’t Tomlinson’s only dream.

In addition to starring on the Duke football team, Tomlinson graduated with degrees in both evolutionary anthropology and psychology. He also spent a summer in college shadowing Dr. Carlos Bagley, a neurosurgeon at Duke University Medical Center, according to The Athletic. After his playing career is over, Tomlinson wants to attend medical school.

Tomlinson’s medical aspirations stem from heartbreak. His grandfather, the same one who paved the way for his family’s future in the United States, died of stomach ulcers during a trip back to Jamaica in 2008.

“I thought about all the things that would have happened had he been in the States versus Jamaica,” Tomlinson told in 2022. “That’s when I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to prevent things like that from happening. If my grandpa lived here, he’d likely be alive to see me go to college.”

Tomlinson’s ultimate goal is to build a hospital in his native Jamaica.

“It’s been my dream,” he said. “It’s always been my dream to build a hospital in Jamaica. And I think that’s part of the process for myself to get that done. That’s something that’s truly a part of me.”

Valuable durability and experience

During his nearly decade-long NFL career, Tomlinson heard about the Seahawks’ culture from afar. It might be a bit different these days with former longtime head coach Pete Carroll no longer at the helm, but Tomlinson feels the foundation Carroll built is still in place.

“The guys here have been all amazing, all great teammates,” he said. “I heard a lot about the culture here, and it just goes to show that all those things I’ve heard over the years, they’re true, man. The culture here is awesome. The fan base is awesome. And I’m excited to get this season rolling.”

Tomlinson, who was a Super Bowl starter following the 2019 season and a Pro Bowl selection with the 49ers in 2021, provides some much-needed durability to a Seahawks offensive line that was decimated by injuries last year. In 17 games, Seattle had 10 different starting offensive line combinations.

Tomlinson also brings valuable experience to a young group.

At the moment, Seattle’s projected starting offensive line includes third-year left tackle Charles Cross, second-year center Olu Oluwatimi and third-year right tackle Abraham Lucas. And at right guard, there’s a potential three-man battle brewing between second-year Anthony Bradford, second-year McClendon Curtis and rookie third-round draft pick Christian Haynes.

Those six linemen have a combined 64 career NFL starts – less than half of Tomlinson’s 138 starts.

“It’s a great signing,” Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald said. “He’s gonna be on our leadership team. Kind of hits you right between the eyes communication-wise, which is what we’re asking for. Brings a veteran presence to our offensive line, some poise. A guy that’s seen a lot of ball, been in a lot of different systems.

“So (we’re) very excited about having Laken on our O-line.”

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