Of all the times Laken Tomlinson has stood for the National Anthem before kickoff of a football game – high school growing up in Chicago, Duke University or the last two seasons with the Detroit Lions – never will it have more meaning than on opening day of the 2017 season.
Two more members of Tomlinson's family became United States citizens this offseason, and Laken is in the process of being the last member of his immediate family to join them.
It was an emotional moment for Tomlinson's family when his sister, Chelsea, and brother, Juhvane, became citizens in a ceremony in Chicago last month. Tomlinson is looking forward to feeling the same rush of emotion and patriotism when he completes the process. There is no date set for it.
"I'm close to getting mine done," Tomlinson said in a telephone interview from California, where he trains in the offseason. "Just from the experience of my siblings, I think it will be emotional for me, as well."
When asked what it will mean to hear the National Anthem one more time, Tomlinson spoke eloquently of the long path to citizenship, and the reward for taking it after immigrating to the U.S. from Jamaica.
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"That's why we came here," he said. "We came here to live in America and be Americans."
Anyone who has gone through the process knows that it's not a simple exercise. It's not like applying for a credit card, or a car loan, or any of the routine procedures most of us take for granted.
In most cases, it takes several years to become a U.S. citizen because of numerous factors, including residency requirements.
"It took a lot of work, getting all the paperwork together for them – a lot of time putting everything together," Tomlinson said. "We got a lot of help from my older brother (Jehmaul, also a U.S. citizen) and my Mom (Audrey Wolfson), getting it all together and sending it off.
"Down the road, it's going to be a big weight off their shoulders."
Tomlinson, his mother and three siblings -- two brothers and a sister – immigrated from Jamaica to the U.S. in 2003. They have resided in Chicago, where Laken became a star athlete in both track and field and football.
Laken got a football scholarship to Duke in 2011, where he started all 52 games in his four years playing on the Blue Devils' offensive line. He was drafted in the first round by the Lions in 2015. He has played all 32 regular-season games for the Lions, with 24 starts.
What his immediate future holds remains to be seen, given the players the Lions have signed in the offseason to shore up the offensive line. There is certain to be competition at left guard, Tomlinson's primary position in 2016.
"I'm excited to get back to work," Tomlinson said. "I'm excited about everything that's going on. I'm here in California, getting ready for the season."
Whatever happens going forward, nothing can diminish the glow from having two more family members figuratively cross the goal line to become U.S. citizens.
Laken, next to Jehmaul the second oldest of his mother's four children, was in California that day and stayed in touch by telephone. It was agonizing for him to get the play-by-play of the ceremony.
"My Mom called me, right after the ceremony was done," Laken said. "I was a little nervous. It was such a big event in their lives, I was praying that my Mom wouldn't be late. My older brother (Jehmaul) and I kept checking up – 'are you sure you're OK? Make sure you bring your IDs.'
"When it was over, she sent me a picture. It was just amazing. I remember texting my congratulations. They came a long way from Jamaica to be U.S. citizens. It's a huge deal."
Huge, indeed, and not something to be taken lightly for emotional and practical reasons.
"It's important for them to finally be U.S. citizens," Laken said. "For myself, and every immigrant coming to the United States, that's the end point of your alienation. You're not an immigrant. You're a citizen. You're not Jamaican. You're an American – just like every other citizen. That's a big thing for these kids (his siblings) to have today.
"They can be protected by the American government, just like every other citizen. Having the freedom to travel back and forth, not having to jump through hoops – that's also a big deal.
"That ends the dream our grandparents dreamed for us when they came here 30-plus years ago. The hopes and dreams of getting all their children, and their children's children to the States living here in the U.S. and getting their citizenship is fulfilling our grandparents' dreams."