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VOL. 131 | NO. 84 | Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Born to Play Football, Paxton Lynch Just Changing Leagues

By Don Wade

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The player can’t tell you how it all started, not really. Neither can the player’s first coach and probably not the player’s dad.

Former University of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, seen here working out at the NFL Combine, is projected to be chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, April 28.

(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

No, to get to the root of things you turn to mom. Because mom will remember the details. And so as the countdown to the Thursday, April 28, NFL Draft turns from days to hours – experts of one stripe or another projecting how high former University of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch will be taken – it’s good to step back for a moment.

It’s good to hear from Paxton’s mother, Stacie Lynch, and that he started down this path naturally. Somehow, that relieves a little of the anxiety about whether Lynch is a New York Jet or a Cleveland Brown or a Kansas City Chief or, well, this could go on forever naming the teams that might draft him.

So let’s go back to the beginning.

“Well, you’re not gonna believe this,” she said, “but his first word really was 'football.' It was 'football' and 'kitty cat' and I was like, 'What happened to "mom"?’”

From there, she launches into her earliest memories of watching him play football. Sure, he did the whole Pop Warner League thing before high school.

But long before there was a real field, a helmet and, well, other players, there was Paxton, his mini-football, his imagination, and perhaps the foreshadowing for a second career as a broadcaster.

“From when he was little, he used to play by himself in the back living room, throwing to himself, scripting the whole thing,” his mother said. “He was the quarterback, then he was the receiver, then he was the running back.

“Every play he’s narrating himself (he also made his own crowd noise), running down the field, the quarterback’s throwing it, and then he runs and jumps and dives and catches it on the couch and … `Touchdown!’”

Memphis knows. For Lynch was so good at throwing to multiple receivers it’s a wonder he didn’t pass the ball to himself for a touchdown.

The reality, of course, is that what lies ahead will not just be much tougher than those imaginary games from his childhood, but from the weekly competition he faced in the American Athletic Conference.

The biggest question going forward is this: How will Paxton Lynch handle the inevitable failure that all rookie quarterbacks meet in the NFL?

Whether he starts sooner or later, the early days for an NFL quarterback are rarely fun. Time moves too fast. The opposing players are so big. And your confidence tends to hide where you can’t immediately find it.

Former Tigers tight end Alan Cross believes Lynch will be up to the challenge. Why?

“Because he did it here,” Cross said. “When he first got thrown in the fire (as a redshirt freshman), the whole Jacob Karam thing, everybody saying Karam should start over Paxton. But (coach Justin) Fuente stuck with him and you see him now. So Fuente was right.”

“It was 'football' and 'kitty cat' and I was like, 'What happened to "mom"?’”

–Stacie Lynch
Paxton Lynch’s mother, on her son's first words

For his part, Lynch says he’s never worried about failure.

“Never really thought about it,” he said.

But he does grasp that change is coming, that he must apply himself at a whole new level.

“At the end of the day, it’s just the work you’re willing to put in,” he said. “It’s a profession now. You gotta be the first guy in and the last guy to leave and I understand that.”

Most would-be experts have Lynch pegged as the third choice at quarterback in this draft behind Carson Wentz of North Dakota State and Jared Goff of California. Evaluators are divided on whether Lynch is merely an intriguing prospect because of arm strength, athleticism and his size – 6-7 and 245 – or if he has the ability to be the kind of quarterback that changes a franchise’s fortunes.

He had no experience in a pro-style offense in college and his footwork, by NFL standards, has been judged mediocre, if also improving.

Lynch’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, agrees a degree of failure is predictable. It’s what happens after that initial failure that determines the enduring narrative.

“That’s where character is important,” Steinberg said. “Everyone gets knocked back in life, but can you be resilient? Here you have a young man who basically was overlooked when he came out of high school (Trinity Christian Academy in Deltona, Fla.), and came to Memphis, which is disrespected as a program.

“So time after time, he has had to come back from adversity. And you saw the number of late comebacks he led during the season. That’s a critical factor.”

One that NFL teams include in the in-depth study they do of every quarterback prospect. No one wants to make a mistake. Everyone is hoping the guy they pick turns out to be the next Tom Brady.

Stacie Lynch has her own thoughts on the team that should draft her son.

“I’m from Texas so I love the Dallas Cowboys, so that would be my dream,” she said with a laugh. “Really, I want him to go someplace where he’ll be developed, he’ll be taught, where they stand behind him and believe in him and invest their time and energy in him.

“And he’ll be happy. It won’t matter what city it is. Coming from little country town Deltona to Memphis, he was as happy as a bug in the rug.”

As for the challenges that await him, she knows she is biased on the topic but she is confident he’s ready to conquer them.

“Because he works hard and he’s passionate about football,” she said. “He loves his teammates, he’s driven, and this is what he’s meant to do.”

From the very first word.

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