Navy junior wide receiver Jason Tomlinson spends Sunday mornings inside his Bancroft Hall dormitory focused on a notebook that allows an escape from his highly structured life as a Midshipman.
"That hour is my time," he said. "I just pick up my pencil and draw . . . family members, portraits and pretty much anything that doesn't move. I don't worry about anything, not football or my schoolwork that's waiting for me. It's my break."
It's always been that way for Tomlinson. His athletic ability enabled him to be successful in sports, whether it was in football, baseball, track, soccer or basketball, but his creativity kept him from being overwhelmed in a competitive and pressure-filled environment.
"Even when he was young, it was always sports and drawing," said Stanley Tomlinson, Jason's dad. "He would play a game, and then he'd go to his room and start drawing cartoons."
"Back then, I was drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," Jason said with a smile. "Now, I draw portraits of people and give them as presents."
The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Tomlinson always envisioned catching passes, but as a Stanford Cardinal. He took an official visit to Stanford, but didn't get a scholarship offer, which left him two choices: Navy and Army.
"I knew whichever college got Jason was going to get a good one because he's a coach's dream, and there are not a lot of kids like him nowdays," said Richard Barrett, who coached Tomlinson at Kennedale High School, near Tomlinson's home town of Arlington, Tex. "He's always the best player on the field and always humble. There were times when he would just sit and talk with my young son, who wanted to be artist, and the two talked about drawing."
Tomlinson's freshman year at Navy wasn't easy, especially away from the football field. He played in every game -- making 10 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown -- but he was still a Plebe, the lowest rung at a school where seniority and rank mean everything.
He hated having to memorize names of ships and the cafeteria's menu and being told when to go to bed, several requirements of a first-year Midshipman.
"Near the end of my freshman year, I wanted to quit. . . . I wanted out," Tomlinson said. "So I called home."
Said Stanley: "I told Jason to be strong. They're just trying to push you around and mess with you. Don't give up. There, you have football. You don't have football anywhere else. You can make it."
Tomlinson is glad he followed his father's advice. He was the team's leading receiver last season with 16 catches for 273 yards and a touchdown, and enters tomorrow's homecoming game against Tulane with a team-high 22 receptions for 413 yards and a touchdown. Tomlinson has accounted for 42 percent of his team's receptions, and has caught more than twice as many passes as any teammate.
"Jason's played really well for us and has certainly created a lot of big plays," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "I knew from the time he came in that he was talented. He's got good speed, but he's not a burner. He's got good hand-eye coordination and runs decent routes and catches the ball well."
Tulane (2-5) allows 180.6 passing yards per game, and during its current four-game losing streak, opponents have averaged 12.1 yards per completion.
"Jason and I spent the summer here working on our timing together and that's been big for us," senior quarterback Lamar Owens said. "He's a really big part of our passing game. I'm confident that when we need to make a big play, Jason can get open and make the catch and he's really good in the open field so he can pick up more yards."
Navy Notes: Navy and Notre Dame have agreed in principle to play a game in Ireland during the 2012 season, and the agreement will be completed as soon as Notre Dame officials sign the contract, Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk said.
The teams played in Ireland in 1996, when Notre Dame posted a 54-27 victory in Dublin's Croke Park in front of a crowd of 38,651. Gladchuk said Notre Dame officials brought up the idea of returning when the schools began negotiating a contract to extend the long-standing series through the 2016 season.
A Notre Dame spokesman said the university would not comment until the contracts have been finalized.