Jordan Lynch was a marvel when he played quarterback at Northern Illinois, a 6-foot super hero who finished third in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting a year after finishing seventh.
In two starting seasons, the 216-pounder hulked his way to 48 touchdowns and more than 4,300 yards rushing, and zipped 51 TD passes and more than 6,000 yards passing while leading NIU to the Orange Bowl following the 2012 regular season. Lynch caught a TD pass. He punted twice for a 57.5-yard average. He nearly single-handedly brought the DeKalb school serious national attention.
The 100 TDs he accounted for perfectly prepared him for his first pro season, where he amassed eight …. special teams tackles. In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The Canadian Football League.
Whoa, if you want to study how an elite athlete handles — fall from the board room to the mail room, Lynch is under the microscope. And he’s climbing back with flair.
Lynch was protector on punt coverage, making calls, and then tackles. He was part of a short-yardage offensive package named Cheetah from which he scored four rushing touchdowns and threw for one score. He capped his rookie year with the winning score in the Grey Cup, the CFL’s championship game. Lynch’s dramatic 1-yard sneak brought the Eskimos from behind to beat the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 with a little more than three minutes to play.
It was a third-and-goal, but in the CFL third down is the equivalent of American football’s fourth down.
“The line got a good push,” Lynch said a couple weeks after the win. “I pretty much just closed my eyes and fell forward into the end zone.”
Lynch has been perfectly groomed to battle back: undersized, not a glamorous pro-style passing QB, he is used to exceeding expectations. Special teams play is the empire of the infantry, sacrificing the body to not only help the team but gain promotion.
“I don’t have a big ego to begin with so I just go out there and fly around and have some fun,” said Lynch. “It’s whatever helps the team. Obviously I want to be more involved but that will take time and I know that. I’ve been through this whole thing before.”
If Tom Brady would have been cut by an NFL team and started his career in the CFL, it’s not likely he would have fit in flying down the field to launch his body into opponents. Lynch though had some thick skin.
“I played quarterback and running back my whole life but I was built as a physical kind of quarterback,” he said. “My days in high school running the triple option and at Northern I carried the ball 300 times a year so I was used to the physical demand on the body.”
Lynch was an undrafted free agent who lasted until the final preseason game with the Chicago Bears. Cut the day after the last preseason game, he tried out for Edmonton and the Detroit Lions. Edmonton offered a contract before Detroit, and Lynch said he didn’t want to wait any longer.
Lynch said none of the differences between the CFL and NFL — longer and wider field, deeper end zones, timeouts, 12 players on the field instead of 11, number of timeouts — are unsettling for first-timers.
“At the end of the day it’s just football,” he said. “There’s some wrinkles here and there. There’s some good football players up there just like anywhere you go. Players just like me that were in the NFL and got cut that are hungry.
“That’s one of the things in the CFL, you’re going to find guys that just go balls to the wall. They’re hungry, they want that contract or they want to get back down south. It’s a great league.”
Lynch has one more year on his contract, and between now and CFL training camp in May, he’s back in his hometown of Chicago. He attended the MAC title game on Dec. 4 in Detroit, though he probably will not attend NIU’s bowl game Wednesday against Boise State in San Diego. He is working out and trying to put together a youth football camp.
Edmonton is searching for a new coaching staff, so not only is Lynch returning to Edmonton, he’ll have to open new eyes. Warren Moon did it, Doug Flutie too. Lynch’s first goal is to be starting quarterback.
“I’m not thinking too far ahead,” he said. “I know I have to start in order to come back to the NFL. If I keep grinding, doing what I’ve been doing my whole life, everything will take care of itself.”