Growing up in Pittsburgh with the most recognizable last name in the city after Roethlisberger and Ward, Dino Tomlin learned to deal with extra attention and a life in the spotlight from an early age.
He felt like a target, with people wanting to beat him so they could beat his father, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Skeptics wondered if he was a legitimate Division 1 player or was getting offers just because of his name.
“Dino grew up under pressure,” said Chuck DiNardo, his coach at Shady Side Academy. “He was forged by fire that way. Moments are not too big for him. I think he embraces it, feeds off it. He likes the negativity.”
Tomlin, now a redshirt senior wide receiver at Boston College, has silenced those doubters and proven that he is much more than just Mike Tomlin’s son. While he is proud to wear that badge, he is also proud to make a name for himself. He currently ranks fourth on the team in receptions (19) and receiving yards (228) and has emerged as one of BC’s most reliable players.
As the Eagles (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) return to Tomlin’s home Thursday night to take on Pittsburgh (2-8, 1-5), Tomlin is grateful for the opportunity to play in front of friends and family . The Steelers play on Sunday, so yes, Mike Tomlin will be in the house.
Mike and Kiya Tomlin met in the training room as injured athletes at William & Mary. Mike played soccer and Kiya was a gymnast, so their children took up sports.
But it wouldn’t necessarily be football. Tomlin said his father never pressured him to play, and he gravitated toward it naturally over the years.
His father rarely commented on his technique after matches, but he did provide insight into his mental approach. Tomlin appreciates being a father first, though he was always available for advice on the field as well.
Their football relationship is a “minuscule” part of their bond, he said. However, others did not see it that way and he felt like he was being treated differently.
“When I was younger, it was kind of hard to deal with that,” Tomlin said. “As I got older, I was like, OK, whatever. It is what it is. It’s who I am.’ I’ve been blessed in a lot of ways, and if that’s one of the things that comes with it, that’s fine.”
DiNardo said Tomlin persevered despite all the extra attention, made great strides late in his high school career and consistently handled double teams with grace. He remembers long sessions with the Jugs machine, catching passes and watching film, and he called Tomlin one of the hardest-working players he has ever coached.
“Dino deserved every bit of it,” said DiNardo, who sits in the front row Thursday. “You knew immediately that this was a man who understood football differently than other 16-year-olds.”
DiNardo said Mike Tomlin brought his recreational vehicle to games hours in advance, tailgates, and had a huge crowd with him. During a playoff game, JuJu Smith-Schuster cheered from the student section.
BC coach Jeff Hafley, who knew Mike Tomlin from his time in the NFL, said Mike called him when Dino entered the transfer portal. Hafley and Mike Tomlin text almost every week, but Mike prefers to keep a low profile on game day.
“He doesn’t want to be noticed,” Hafley said. “I always ask what he needs. He just wants to put on a hat and sit in the stands with the rest of the parents.
Hafley said it’s easy to tell that Tomlin is a coach’s son because of the way he sits in the front row, takes notes and focuses during meetings. On the pitch, that disciplined approach pays dividends as his attention to detail shines through in the moments he holds on.
Tomlin started his career at Maryland, but has settled in at BC over the past two seasons and emerged as someone Hafley can trust.
“He could be a captain of our team, the way he is,” Hafley said. ‘He looks like Mr. Reliable. You can always count on him.”
Hafley said running back Pat Garwo, wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe, tight end George Takacs, defensive end Shitta Sillah and linebacker Jaylen Blackwell – all starters entering the season – are out for the rest of the year. He also said defenseman Elijah Jones is “going through something right now” and will likely miss the rest of the season as well. Jones is tied for second in the country with five interceptions. Hafley expects running back Kye Robichaux, who missed last week’s Virginia Tech game, to return Thursday.
Hafley was a defensive assistant at Pitt from 2006 to 2007 and the defensive backs coach from 2008 to 2010. This is where he met his wife, and he still knows many people in the athletic department. “There are a lot of memories there,” Hafley said. “But it’s not about me or going back. We have to find a way to win this game, in a short week, with a group that is not happy with the way they played.”
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