While Chicago Public League high schools make up one of the great basketball factories in the country, they don’t produce a ton of top football talent— let alone NFL players.
San Francisco’s left guard, Laken Tomlinson grew up in the same Rogers Park neighborhood I did – obviously a few decades earlier – and rode the ‘L’ and busses to Lane Tech in high school.
Tomlinson says he didn’t really realize CPS doesn’t produce a ton of top NFL talent.
“I mean, I can only talk from my experience coming out of Lane Tech, it was me and Louis Trinca-Pasat. He played at Iowa and went on to play for the Rams.
“We have some good players but you’ve got to be successful in college, you have to get good grades and then be fortunate enough to get drafted in the league.
“It’s tough and you know there is a small percentage of players that make it to the league from college alone, not only Chicago.”
Tomlinson was the 28th pick in the first round of the 2015 draft — which took place in Chicago — by the Detroit Lions and was traded to the 49ers in 2017, establishing himself as a key cog in their offensive line and devastating ground game.
“A bunch of my friends still live in Chicago. I try to go back every now and then to visit my mom, of course, and I still have cousins that are there,” Tomlinson says.
“I miss Chicago. I miss family. Chicago’s an awesome place. I have tons of fond memories there.”
Running back Tevin Coleman grew up in Oak Forest and was an All State running back and track star at Oak Forest before going to Indiana.
“Yeah, I definitely grew up a Bears fan watching Devin Hester, you know what I’m saying, do work, and all those other guys,” Coleman told me earlier this week.
While he didn’t seem terribly focused on it, he did tell me when I asked him if the Bears were one of his suitors as a free agent last offseason after spending his first four NFL seasons as a fourth round pick of the Falcons: “I don’t think so, no. The Bears weren’t a team that reached out to me.”
It was a Bears decision that puzzled some after they had just traded Jordan Howard and had yet to draft David Montgomery.
Though Howard and Coleman were never together at Indiana, they do have a strong connection.
“Jordan actually came (to Indiana) right after I left. He came in from Birmingham right after I left, but when he got in the league we got some time to chop it up and he’s a real great dude, good dude and we’ve got the same agent.”
Closing the loop on the 49ers-Bears connections and both team’s RB situations is emerging star Raheem Mostert.
He is actually a Florida kid who played his college ball at Purdue, but after NFL stops in 2015-16with the Eagles, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns and Jets, Mostert became a Bear in Week 2 of the 2016 season.
“I remember walking into that building and it’s an unbelievable organization. I met unbelievable teammates I still talk to this day," Mostert told me.
“They were going through some things on the ground, and actually Jeremy Langford had just gotten hurt and I remember Jordan Howard stepped up and did what he had to do and he did a great job.”
It wasn’t that the Bears missed on Mostert — he was a street free agent while Howard had been drafted in the fifth round and was on his way to an All Rookie Team nod and Pro Bowl selection.
And Mostert certainly holds no ill will toward the Bears.
“We’re all family," he said. "I still follow them to this day and I still talk to those guys on social media and we all still communicate and I tell them how proud I am of them, and I appreciate them for being my friends and being my brothers.”