By Dorothy Tucker

(CBS) – A Lane Tech graduate says he wouldn’t be looking at an NFL future without the unselfish act of a man looking to make a difference in the world.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports.

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It’s all hugs and smiles as Laken Tomlinson greets the couple he credits with much of his success, on the field and off.

“Growing up, I didn’t  have a father figure,” Tomlinson says. “My mom was a single mom with four kids.”

His family moved to Chicago from Jamaica when he was 10 years old. He was in need of a mentor, and Bob Sperling, a successful attorney, was looking to give back.

Tomlinson became a part of the Sperling family, visiting almost every week. They actually introduced him to football.

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“I had no idea what football was,” he says. “I had pads on and I was hitting other kids. It was a lot of fun.”

Tomlinson turned out to be a gifted athlete, becoming a star football player at Lane Tech — and a top student.

“He gave me the tools I needed to navigate myself through the city, staying away from the gangs,” Tomlinson says of Sperling.

Nearly every top college had their eye on the All-American. The Sperlings helped him choose Duke because he wanted to major in pre-med.

“I see him as a son,” Sperling says. “People said, ‘Aren’t you proud of his football accomplishments?’ I’m proud, but there are so many things about him that I’m far more proud about — his decency, his kindness.”

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Tomlinson and the Sperlings connected through a Chicago mentoring program called Youth Guidance.

Dorothy Tucker