Who players looked up to as a kid, says something about them. It's why I would ask such a simple question. What posters did you have on your wall, who did you follow? It gives you insight into what skills or traits they like and what inspires and motivates that individual.
I'd hazard a guess that most people wouldn't pick Rocky Bleier as their first choice for a QB. Yet, that's exactly who Paxton Lynch liked.
If you don't know Rocky's life story, having him as your sports hero may not register a ‘wow’, but it is. The short synopsis is after his rookie year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bleier was drafted to Vietnam.
While there, his unit was ambushed which lead to a bullet wound in his left thigh. As they awaited help, an explosion nearby sent shrapnel into his right leg. Not only did he spend months recuperating, but he lost part of his foot.
During his recuperation overseas, the Steelers were floundering. Owner, Art Rooney, sent him a postcard asking him to come back, which he eventually did. It took him two years to regain his pre-injury strength and size. During this span, he was released twice, toiled on special teams, but in the end, helped lead his team to Super Bowl victories — minus a part of that foot.
A Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, Super Bowl champion and fighter against all odds. That's the type of player Lynch admired. When Paxton went out for football, he tried out for running back and chose Rocky's number 20.
Lynch continued to play running back until high school when his coach sadly informed him that he was too tall and needed to pick another position. The other player he really liked, whose poster adorned his wall was, Kordell Stewart. One could say that if Rocky Bleier had become a quarterback instead of running back, more than likely he'd have played like Stewart. In addition to playing football, Lynch was also a pitcher, hence quarterbacking was a logical transition. It also allowed him to be like Stewart. He taught himself how to adjust from a pitching to a passing motion.
While learning the ropes of the position, Lynch figured out that having 34.25" arms could be a problem with an elongated release, so he watched film to compact it. It worked. Last year, his ‘time to throw’ was tied with Drew Brees for fourth quickest. Not bad having the same time as a veteran who's 7" shorter with 3" shorter arms. Especially when he can hurl it 59 MPH.
These stories give glimpses into the kind of person Lynch is. Self taught, adaptable, hard working. He's also a person of strong faith. Each person has a purpose, a righteous path that gives life meaning. He is driven with that belief and the gratitude that his talent is a gift — one not to be squandered.
When you believe that God has bestowed something special in you, it becomes your mission to do the most with it. Lynch has done this throughout his young life. He strives to be the best he can. He doesn't see walls, he sees challenges to overcome. A test of will and faith.
It’s why every year he improves. From his freshman year in high school to his senior year in college, he continues to march forward. Contrary to a recycled rumor, he isn't one to remain idle. While at Memphis, he arrived at 6:00 AM to watch game film before the start of classes. He put in the time and the effort to ensure he could be the best player possible.
Graciously, super agent Leigh Steinberg shared his thoughts with me about Paxton. He spoke about Lynch’s ability to be both one of the guys, friends with everyone, but he also possesses the ability to tune out the outside world. When it comes to football, practice and watching game film, he said Lynch has tunnel vision.
“He has a passion to learn and absorb”, Steinberg said of Lynch.
John Elway and Lynch, share the similar path of starting off as a running back, but switching to quarterback in high school. However, Elway's father, Jack, played football in college and he coached it, too. Elway was tutored on the craft every step of the way, but that wasn't the story Lynch had growing up.
Lynch's father, Dave, was a college basketball player. He helped coach Paxton’s Pop Warner teams as a caring dad, but it wasn't a sport he played. Lynch wasn't sent to quarterback camps and never had the benefit of private coaching. Truth be told, the first time he worked with a quarterback coach focused solely on him, was last year to prepare for the combine.
And where is he now? Showing his loyalty to a man who believed in his abilities every step of the way, by working with the same instructor and well-respected quarterback guru Charlie Taafe.
Paxton went from a childhood running back to a first-round draft pick based on his will, talent and belief. Dedication and a fierce competitiveness got him there. Hard work turned Memphis from a losing team, to one that won bowl games and received national attention. A sentiment acknowledged by former Memphis Tiger and current teammate Ronald Leary in an interview with the team's official website.
"We weren’t there at the same time, but as soon as [Lynch] got there, they started winning," Leary stated. "He’s a proven winner, man. We weren’t winning too much when I was there, but he got there and they started winning. He’s a great kid. I talked to him yesterday. He sent me a text just welcoming me to the family. He’s a good guy. I’m happy for him. He’s going to get better with progress, with time. I’m looking forward to seeing him grow.”
Ask Peyton Manning about winning. He'll tell you it's hard work. From tiny Trinity High School in Deltona, Florida to the University of Memphis, Lynch has turned losing teams into winners — he has elevated them. That's what winners do. What leaders of men do.
As far as leadership, talk to his former high school and college teammates. Talk to his former coaches. Watch interviews. After one memorable win during his senior year, Lynch’s teammates showered him with so much brotherly affection, he could barely finish. The local news anchor, commented, "wow, they really love their quarterback!" Watch him play. He is a natural at directing his teammates.
In several interviews both in college and in the pros, former Tigers and Broncos teammate, Mose Frazier lauded Lynch for his leadership qualities and ability to overcome obstacles on the gridiron.
He's humble to the situation so once he gets on the field, nothing surprises him. Just wanna go out and play ball," Frazier said. "Just being the great leader he is, putting the great work he puts in. He's an all around quarterback in my eyes. He'll double to the job.
At Memphis, he graduated with a business degree in Sports Management while never missing a single game in 38 starts. He earned academic honors and was a Manning Award finalist, twice. Despite such success, it wasn't all roses for Lynch in his first season with the Tigers. He was named the starter over a beloved veteran quarterback. There was unease in the locker room and the fans weren't pleased by the new guy taking over. Even though the year was up and down, Tigers Head Coach Justin Fuente stuck with Lynch and it paid dividends.
"Pretty level-headed young man," Fuente said. "He’s not taken in by a lot of the other stuff. He seems to be able to stay focused and not get too rattled. His overall command and leadership style is what I think he’s continuing to improve on, his ability to lead within his own personality."
Not many know that Lynch and his older brother, Evin were home-schooled by their mother Stacie. This lasted until junior high. There seems to be a pattern developing here. Starting at one spot and morphing into another, but regardless of the transition, he shows the ability to succeed and overcome anything in his path. That's special, especially for a home schooled kid who played running back and baseball, only to end up with a college degree, and get selected in the first round by a Super Bowl winning franchise.
If people think going from a small school, to a spread offense, to being a bad fit under Gary Kubiak’s old school system and painted as a ‘bust’ is going to tie Lynch down, they haven't done their homework. They've taken the easy way out.
Steinberg made this assessment, "People can confuse his smiling, friendly, fun sense of humor and laid back ways as lacking a passion for football."
And in respect to Lynch, the thought of him lacking passion for the game couldn't be anything further from the truth. He burns for football.
He doesn’t want or need to be King Kong beating on his chest. At Memphis he never carried himself as the star (which he was), but was friends with all. Leigh said that when it comes to game time, he has the rare ability to tune out the outside world and play with a ‘quiet mind’.
Steinberg's thoughts reinforce a recent article I did on the quarterback brain. The ability to focus better under pressure is a trait shared by elite athletes. As an aside, when they first put the head set on, he was very nervous. His brain waves showed it; however, when they handed him a football, he instantly became calm. According to agent Chris Cabott, they had never seen any player release his nervous energy as quickly as Lynch did. The sports science team was surprised at how much his pattern changed by just touching the pigskin.
Steinberg continued on his assessment of Lynch, "He has an amazing level of connection with players and is a terrific leader."
If you want to see one game that most closely defines Lynch, watch the Miami Beach Bowl against Brigham Young University. He had moments of oh, wow, to oh no. That rollercoaster game ending is what is to be remembered. Not his seven touchdowns in one half against SMU, but the Miami Beach Bowl game in the closing minutes.
Remember the Kansas City game in 2015 when Peyton Manning absolutely had to score? He'd had an up and down game, including a pick, but when the clock hit two minutes, magic happened. He marched the team down the field. Then on second down, he threw a dirt ball to Caldwell in the end zone. Third down. Time was the enemy when Manning tossed a strike to Emmanuel Sanders. Touchdown! Tie ball game. Our defense ended up recovering the ball on a fumble and the game was won.
That was the Miami Beach Bowl game for Lynch. The game was on his shoulders. Time was expiring, it was third down and he had to score. Earlier he had thrown interceptions, many would have felt dejected or have had their coach not trust them. That didn't happen. Fuente believed. Lynch believed. He helped score the game winning touchdown, then the defense forced a turnover, ending in a stunning victory for the Tigers.
Being able to put the bad behind you, to rise up to a momentous occasion, to not fall on your face, to inspire belief from your coaches, that's what winners do. It was a small bowl for small schools, but it showed all of the above. It showed heart. It showed that Lynch has the ability to overcome odds and that he has the guts, grit and determination to succeed in the NFL.
"He feeds off himself. He. loves. this. game.”, Chris Cabott said quite emphatically. ‘He is a winner. Denver Broncos fans have a lot to look forward to.”
Cabott couldn't say enough about Paxton's drive, leadership and ability to focus during a game.
Since Lynch didn't start tossing a football until his freshman year and attended a small Christian school in a suburb, he was overlooked by all colleges in Florida. Yet, that changed when a friend of Coach Fuente saw an article in the local paper about this phenom and said, "You need to recruit this kid." Which he did, sight unseen.
After he signed with Memphis, the University of Central Florida came calling. Plus, Florida wanted him as a walk-on. Lynch could have jumped ship. He didn't. He stayed loyal to his commitment. The same happened at Trinity. A bigger high school wanted him, but he stuck with his teammates.
In the Navy, we have a saying: Honor, Courage, Commitment. Paxton had the honor and loyalty to stay committed to his word and the courage to see it through. Anything can be accomplished when you live your life upholding those three ideals. Leigh Steinberg mentioned that after Paxton’s faith based values, family, friendship and loyalty were next.
Faith, Family, Friends and Football. That's Paxton Lynch. An underdog with a purpose in life.