LaDainian Tomlinson has been the star of whichever backfield he found himself in for most of his NFL career. Now that he's a Jet, though, he'll be used more as an accessory to Shonn Greene. How will the NFL's eighth all-time leading rusher handle that?
Probably the same way he did when he was a junior in high school, say the folks who knew him then.
Tomlinson was the starting tailback at University High School in Waco, Texas, when he was a sophomore and the team ran a pass-heavy spread system. The next year, coach Leroy Coleman switched to a more run-focused offense. But it wasn't Tomlinson at the center of it. It was senior Lawrence Pullen, who became the starting tailback after playing wide receiver. Tomlinson - he of the great vision, speed and joystick-controlled moves - was the fullback.
"Dainian was always up for what was best for the team," Pullen said. "He could have started for anybody. It was a situation where he could have been the starting tailback, too. You had two great players and you wanted them both on the field at the same time."
Pullen went on to play in college at Stephen F. Austin and has banged around Arena football for the last decade. But he's kept up with his former fullback and old friend.
"I've known since we were 8 and 9 years old that one of us would make it," he said. "You know how you have those dreams in childhood? I just knew that one of us was going to make the dream."
Coleman, who moved Tomlinson to fullback and then back to tailback his senior year, also said he knew Tomlinson was destined for greatness, and not just because of his six touchdowns in his first game as a senior at University High.
"The thing that makes him so special is he leads by example," Coleman said. "He's always going to be the first on the field and the last off. That's just his makeup. That's the way he's been all his life. Even in high school, we had to run him out of the weight room. 'Let's go, baby, it's time to go home,' we told him. He just wanted to do that extra work."
Something else Tomlinson has always wanted, it turns out, was to play in New York. Pullen said Tomlinson told him that besides playing for the Cowboys - the team they grew up watching and rooting for - it was "always something of a dream to play in the Big Apple."
"He'd say, 'If I had a chance my last two or three years, I'd like to play in New York,' " Oben said. "I think it's common of a lot of guys who never played in big markets; they'd always wonder what it was like to play in New York."
Tomlinson need wonder no longer. But just because he's here as a supplement to Greene and apparently will be comfortable with his designated role, it doesn't mean he won't be pushing hard.
"I know the Jets have a running back, but Dainian is going to come in with something to prove. He's going to come in and do what he's got to do," Pullen said. "I know he's better than what they think he is."
"I know him very well," Coleman said, "and I know he still has a little gas in that tank."
With Bob Glauber