Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson Might Be the Most Interesting Man in CFB

Greg CouchNational ColumnistJanuary 6, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - OCTOBER 8:  Dalvin Tomlinson #54 of the Alabama Crimson Tide shoves Austin Allen #8 of the Arkansas Razorbacks after throwing a pass at Razorback Stadium on October 8, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Crimson Tide defeated the Razorbacks 49-30.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The wrestling matches in the Alabama locker room are finished now. There is no point to them anymore. There's no pinning Dalvin Tomlinson down.

"I had him once at first," said Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, who might be the best and toughest college football player in the country. "But then..."

Allen said that in front of Tomlinson recently in the football offices at Alabama in a private moment with Bleacher Report.

"No," Tomlinson said, staring back sarcastically at Allen, his teammate on the Alabama defensive line. "He didn't have me."

In five years at Alabama, Tomlinson has blended in facelessly on what now might be the best line in college footbal history. When word got out last year about his locker room wrestling domination, that seemed to define him.

But he is so much more. They call Tomlinson the Renaissance Man, a nickname his high school football coach gave him because he has so many varying interests and skills. He is part football and part wrestling, part honors student and part anime artist, part soccer player, part tattoo designer, part trumpet player.

What else? Oh yeah, he's part starting defensive lineman in the national championship game Monday night against Clemson.

Tomlinson taking down Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, who he'll face again with a national championship on the line.
Tomlinson taking down Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, who he'll face again with a national championship on the line.Chris Carlson/Associated Press/Associated Press

He had the academics to get a scholarship offer from Harvard and the athletics for a football scholarship at Alabama. Think about that for a minute.

As amazing as his destination is, his path there was even more incredible. Tomlinson's dad died of cancer when Dalvin was five, and his mom died unexpectedly in 2011. But they say it takes a village to raise a child, and Tomlinson's family is the ultimate support group.

It may well have been the original village.

"My family has been behind me through everything," Tomlinson said. "I've got aunts and cousins I see as mother figures. I have uncles who are father figures for me. And all of them helped me through everything in my life no matter what."

Tomlinson said whatever he saw his older brother Labronzo do, he copied. That meant drawing, football, wrestling, trumpet. Everything.

"Yeah," Labronzo Tomlinson said Thursday morning while taking a 10-minute break from his job as a forklift operator in McDonough, Georgia. "We always had to try to outdo each other."

Labronzo said he was copying all of his cousin's moves before Dalvin was copying him. That cousin surely copied his moves from another, older Tomlinson.

You get the feel of how such a rock-solid family structure can work.

"There's nobody in my family that goes without somebody," Labronzo said. "My mother was really the one taking care of us, but when she passed, our aunt stepped up. When our dad passed, it was like we had eight fathers waiting. We had enough uncles to prove the point. They kept us out of trouble."

One of Tomlinson's drawings of a favorite anime character.
One of Tomlinson's drawings of a favorite anime character.Source: Davlin Tomlinson's Instagram

When their mom, Melinda, died of heart disease and kidney failure before Dalvin's senior year of high school, Labronzo said he went into a shell for a few weeks while Dalvin dove into his books and drawings.

"Pretty much, she's my drive for everything," Dalvin said. "When I feel I can't go anymore, I think of what she would tell me, keep pushing me through and get better. Keep working on my craft. You have to just keep improving."

The Tomlinson family defines the town of McDonough. The family has lived there together for at least 150 years. According to Labronzo, there are eight houses all together that Tomlinsons occupy. Who lives there?

"Everybody," Labronzo said.

The high school they went to was on Tomlinson Street; Dalvin said one of his relatives along the way donated the land to the town for the school. The Tomlinson family, he said, helped to found one of the first churches in Georgia built after the Civil War by freed slaves.

He said that however many generations back, one of his acnestors was a slave owner who started a family with one of his slaves. "And then the other slaves were freed."

Isn't it hard to come to terms with the fact his family was started by a slave owner?

"When I first found out about it, I was shocked," he said. "But if he wasn't who he was back in the day, my family wouldn't be who they are today."

The family today has strength in its comfort of place and purpose.

Tomlinson is so well-rounded, has so many things going on, that even his brother didn't know about one big thing: When Bleacher Report asked Labronzo about Dalvin's offer to go to Harvard, he was confused.

"Yeah, somehow he didn't know anything about it," Dalvin said Wednesday night. "Since you told him, he's been giving me a hard time about it. 'How could you not go to Harvard? That's a lot of people's dreams.'"

Tomlinson celebrates with Jonathan Allen, and both linemen are likely to be playing on Sundays in the fall.
Tomlinson celebrates with Jonathan Allen, and both linemen are likely to be playing on Sundays in the fall.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Well, some people dream about winning a national title for Alabama, too. Tomlinson's dream is to play in the NFL, and while he can see doing any number of things, including using the two bachelor's degrees (finance and financial planning) he says he has already earned, he wanted to take his chance at football.

Tomlinson is likely to make it. He has gone somewhat unnoticed publicly at Alabama, partly because the Tide defense is so star-studded. Allen might be the first pick. Linebackers Reuben Foster and Tim Williams are also likely to be drafted high in the first round.

But CBS now rates Tomlinson as the 15th-best draft-eligible defensive tackle and 151st-best player overall. It projects him as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

"I don't know if you can tell," Allen said, "but he's really a difference-maker on the front."

Tomlinson said he has put all of his other interests, other than drawing, aside so he can make the most of his football potential. But he plans to get back to some of those things.

He said he developed so many of them partly from the role models throughout his family and partly because his mom told him, "If you feel like doing something, go do it. Don't be afraid to go do anything."

He would go on to be a three-time high school heavyweight state wrestling champion, winning one title by pinning his opponent in nine seconds.

"The first time he beat me was when I was 16 and he was in the ninth grade," Labronzo said.

"That's when he got serious about lifting weights and decided he could just pick me up."

Dalvin laughs about who could beat him whenever he was getting a little too confident in himself: His high school wrestling coach, he said, was a man in his 50s "shorter than me but way stronger. He had a beer gut that was like stone. I was like, 'Oh my God. I just don't understand it.'"

Dalvin doesn't wrestle at Alabama. He left his trumpet in McDonough and plays only when he's home if a cousin eggs him on.

It's a funny picture, somehow, to think of Tomlinson, a 305-pounder, playing the trumpet. It was even scarier to people, he said, when he was on the high school soccer team as a goalie or striker.

"I was two or three times the size of everyone else," he said.

Tomlinson tore his ACL playing soccer during his senior year of high school. After sitting out his freshman year at Alabama to recover, he tore his other ACL, this time playing football, and had to miss another year.

So it took patience. But all along he continued drawing, and that was a therapy of sorts. He learned it while watching his parents and his brothers draw. He has designed a tattoo for a friend, Labronzo said. Dalvin said he has worked on an anime cartoon, even drawing himself as a child. He draws whatever hits him.

"Drawing for me relaxes me and gets me into a different realm away from the real world, and I can just draw pretty much whatever I put my mind to," he said. "Some might take longer than others, but it just relaxes me."

He is probably headed for an NFL career, but that's not a given. If not, he said, he might go back to his old high school, on Tomlinson Street, to help coach the wrestling team. On the other hand, he said, it was awfully hard to pass up Harvard. Maybe he could go back and get a graduate degree there.

Whatever it is, if the Renaissance Man doesn't make it in the NFL, he'll be more prepared than anyone to wrestle with something else.

   

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @gregcouch.

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