Former NIU coach Kill trusted Lynch to play quarterback
Note to readers: This is the first of a three-part series on Jordan Lynch’s evolution into a Heisman Trophy finalist.
If it wasn’t for former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, Jordan Lynch probably wouldn’t be headed to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
After seeing what Lynch has accomplished as NIU’s starting quarterback the past two years, it’s hard to believe Kill was the only FBS coach to offer Lynch a scholarship to play quarterback coming out of Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School.
Lynch said his former coach found out about him being a finalist late Monday night, as Kill was on the road recruiting all day. When Kill turned on ESPN, he saw Lynch’s name on the bottom ticker.
The two weren’t able to talk Monday but had a chat Tuesday.
“I think he called me about 12 times last night,” Lynch said Tuesday. “I was sleeping.”
It’s not that Lynch didn’t have any Division I interest as a prep player. He had offers, but they were from schools recruiting Lynch to play safety. Lynch ran the Caravan’s triple-option offense and nobody wanted to take a chance on him – except Kill.
“Coach Kill’s the best,” Lynch said. “I had to say thanks to him, giving me my first scholarship offer and really believing in me.”
As a senior with the Caravan, Lynch ran the ball 141 times for 848 yards and 15 touchdowns, and only had 125 passing attempts, completing 75 of them for 1,221 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led the Caravan to a 10-3 record and a berth in the Class 8A state semifinals.
“I ran a triple option, not a lot of people took me serious,” Lynch said. “I always kept working, I always believed I was a quarterback. I kept working at it, kept working at it. As soon as I got my chance I knew I’d run away with it.”
P.J. Fleck was an assistant on the Huskies’ staff when NIU was recruiting Lynch. Fleck, who just finished his first season as Western Michigan’s head coach, said Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti told the NIU staff back then that Lynch was the toughest player they ever coached.
Fleck called Lenti, who won his 11th state championship at Huskie Stadium this past month, “the godfather.” He wasn’t with the Huskies long enough to see the long-term benefits resulting from the chance NIU’s staff took as Fleck left the program after the 2009 season.
But after the Broncos’ 33-14 loss to NIU in the last week of this year’s regular season, Fleck called Lynch the best player in college football.
“I’m real proud of him because I know the kid personally and he deserves it. With all the pressure and people saying this and saying that, he continues to perform. He’s a football player,” Fleck said. “He’s the best football player because he does everything and has everything at a league level. He’s an elite player. From watching him live and just being around him, I really believe that, and I think that’s what the Heisman Trophy is all about – finding the best player in the country and finding the best player that makes everyone around him better.”
Lynch said he really is only in his fourth season playing quarterback. He mentioned the fact that his passing game’s getting a lot stronger and his footwork is improving.
Lynch’s plan always was to play quarterback. However, getting an opportunity wasn’t easy.
“The reason I’m where I’m at now is because of Coach Lenti,” Lynch said. “Him just selling me to the coaches, college coaches and to Coach Kill. I think one of the biggest things he told the coaches is I’m a competitor and I’m a winner. Any coach that hears that loves to take you. He told the coaches I can play quarterback.”