COURTESY: LINCOLN HIGH - Lincoln High athletes signing last week (from left) are Thomas Rudinsky (Lane Community College, baseball), Tommy Laverde (Portland State, football), Kayode Rufai (Boise State, football) and Michael Angyus (South Dakota School of Mines, football).One name kept coming up during Lincoln High football coach Wes Warren’s exit interviews with his underclassmen after the season.

“I’d ask them to evaluate our senior leadership,” Warren says, “and without fail, all the sophomores and juniors mentioned Tom Laverde and how great of a leader he was.”

Tommy Laverde, a 6-5, 285-pound senior offensive lineman for the Cardinals, has wasted little time in showcasing those leadership traits for his new team at Portland State.

Laverde, one of 16 players signed by the Vikings on Feb. 3, has spent the past few weeks reaching out to PSU recruits and establishing relationships with them through text messages and social media.

“He was like one my coaches out there recruiting,” Portland State coach Bruce Barnum says. “He definitely helped us recruit. He’s a Portland State guy through and through, and he’s helped get all those guys bonded already.

“That’s the kind of guy Tommy is. The first thing that walks in the room with him is his personality.”

Barnum, who offered a scholarship to Laverde last June, labeled him as “one of the most unique student-athletes that will ever be brought to this university” in the school’s official news release on signing day.

Upon hearing that, Laverde laughed and took it as high praise. With long blond hair and black-rimmed glasses, Laverde enjoys connecting with various groups of people through his affable disposition.

“I think what (Barnum) meant by that is I’m very outgoing,” says Laverde, who loves outdoors activities such as hiking, swimming and riding on his family’s speedboat on the Columbia River. “I’m not one to shy away from conversation. I love talking to people and getting to know them better. I’m open to almost anyone.”

For most of Laverde’s childhood, that niceness was with him on and off the field. But during his junior football season at Lincoln, Laverde displayed a noticeable increase in toughness during games.

“He developed a fire and a love of the game,” Warren says. “I don’t think he really viewed himself as a football player until that point.”

After Lincoln lost a competitive 28-21 game to Clackamas in the first round of the 2014 Oregon School Activities Association playoffs, Warren was taken aback some when he entered a locker room full of the various season-ending emotions and heard Laverde’s voice.

“There are seniors crying and everyone was really quiet, and then there’s Tom standing up and speaking over everyone else,” Warren says. “He was saying, ‘This isn’t going to happen to us next year!’ And I was like, ‘Wow, where is this coming from?’

“That passion is something that just develops over time. He really started working at it after that, and his mind was always on football.”

Laverde credits a conversation he had with Oregon Ducks offensive line coach Steve Greatwood during his junior year with helping make him aware of the potential to play college football.

“Greatwood told me I actually had a great chance to play at Oregon, and that’s really when it all started for me,” Laverde says. “He was the first to recognize my talent, and my senior year is when I really blossomed. I didn’t really know the potential I had.”

Laverde, who also plays basketball and impresses with his size and speed as a lacrosse standout, used his athleticism to excel as an offensive tackle in Lincoln’s wing-T offense last fall.

With Laverde helping lead the way, the Cardinals rolled to a Portland Interscholastic League championship and an unbeaten regular season. Lincoln then beat Newberg 28-0 in the first round of the OSAA playoffs and Grants Pass 42-14 in the second round before losing in the quarterfinals.

At the same time as Lincoln’s success, Laverde was keeping close tabs of the turnaround football story taking shape at nearby Portland State.

The Lincoln and PSU campuses are separated by a 0.7-mile stretch of city blocks that takes about 15 minutes to walk. The schools’ football fields are situated even closer, with Lincoln’s stadium across the street from Providence Park.

Laverde took advantage of that proximity to attend four Vikings home games. He used those outings to soak up the ambience and imagine how much more it could grow in the years to come.

“I love it there,” says Laverde, who has lived in the Forest Heights area of Portland since moving from Salem at age 2. “It’s a great stadium. They’re just going to fill it up even more with bigger crowds, better atmospheres. This past year was a big turnaround.”

Laverde, who was offered spots as a preferred walk-on at both Oregon and Oregon State, was thrilled to give his verbal commitment to Portland State on Dec. 13. It came after a memorable home visit by Barnum and several of his assistant coaches.

“The season they had and the coaching staff were the two biggest factors in my decision,” Laverde says. “I want to go to a program where we will win and get rings. But also somewhere I’ll look back on them as some of the best years of my life.”

Warren, a video coordinator for Portland State’s football program in 2013, has no doubt Laverde made the right choice in choosing the Vikings.

As Warren watched Laverde develop into an honorable mention all-state lineman this past season, he was reminded of three former star offensive linemen from his 12 years coaching at Bellevue High near Seattle.

“I was fortunate enough to coach David DeCastro (a guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers), Stephen Schilling (former Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers lineman) and Boise State’s Marcus Henry, who will get drafted this year,” Warren says. “And Tom is as physical as any one of those guys. He’s as mentally tough as any one of those guys. And he’s got as big of a ceiling as anybody. When he gets coached up by college coaches, I think he’s going to be a guy that finds an NFL roster in five years. He’s got all the tools.

“I’ve been telling all the college coaches that what you see on film isn’t even close to what you’re going to get. He’s definitely still raw, but his ceiling is so high.”

Laverde, the middle of three brothers, can’t wait to tap into his potential at Portland State and play for a former offensive lineman in Barnum.

“I think my frame is going to carry me a long way,” says Laverde, who plans to enroll early at Portland State in the summer to take a few courses and get a head start in football by participating in the team’s workouts. “So if I keep working hard and keep staying focused, then I think I have a bright future at Portland State.”

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