David Haugh's In the Wake of the News
7:28 PM CST, November 13, 2012
DEKALB — In the kitchen outside his parents' bedroom, Jordan Lynch tried not to wake his mom and dad in the middle of the night as he chased his college football dream one peanut-butter sandwich at a time.
"I knew I needed to gain more weight to play at the next level so I did whatever I had to do,'' the Northern Illinois' junior quarterback recalled.
A skinny teenager at Mount Carmel with a high metabolism, Lynch would get up at 3 a.m. just to eat. Night after night, Lynch would sit in the dark, munching quietly and chewing on the idea of becoming like his college-football heroes Reggie Bush or Eric Crouch.
At first, Sheila Lynch thought one of her three sons was up sick in the wee hours of the morning. In time, everybody inside the Lynch's house in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Southwest Side grew accustomed to sleeping through the noise of Jordan rattling the refrigerator. Dinner leftovers. Protein shakes. Nothing beat Jordan's favorite peanut-butter sandwiches.
"I don't care how much he ate in one day, Jordan could wake up starving,'' his mom said.
These days, Lynch leads the 9-1 Huskies driven by a different kind of hunger.
To prove Northern Illinois, owners of the country's longest home-field winning streak at 20, deserves consideration as the state's top team and the national respect that often eludes Mid-American Conference programs. To show college recruiters who doubted Lynch could play quarterback that they made a mistake about the guy ranked third in the nation in total offense with 3,517 yards heading into Wednesday's nationally televised showdown against Toledo at Huskie Stadium.
"People have the knock on me for throwing because I run so good,'' said Lynch, whose 1,342 rushing yards on 185 carries leads all FBS quarterbacks. "It doesn't bother me but maybe it does put a little chip on my shoulder.''
It began to mount at Mount Carmel when Caravan legend Donovan McNabb memorably encouraged Lynch to stay positive. Running legendary coach Frank Lenti's triple-option offense kept Lynch off-radar of programs seeking more traditional quarterbacks. But McNabb urged Lynch to "be serious in what you do, be patient and your play will speak for itself.''
"I took that to heart,'' Lynch said.
Eventually, Lynch took the offer of the only coach who offered him a scholarship to play quarterback. Once former NIU coach Jerry Kill saw Lynch throw at a one-day prospects camp, he knew why his old buddy Lenti recommended the rugged speedster. The spirals came out of Lynch's right hand as naturally as they had since the day his freshman year at Mount Carmel an assistant coach put the running back behind center.
"Jordan came home one day and says, 'Dad, they made me a quarterback,''' Jim Lynch said. "I was like, 'Yeah right, you've been a running back since grammar school.' He said, 'Dad, they run the option.'''
Years later, Kill leaving for Minnesota after the 2010 season forced Lynch suddenly to weigh his options. The thought of a new coach with a different offense concerned Lynch. Yet the exercise science major loved the school, his teammates and the close proximity to home so Lynch could be the role model he wanted for his 9-year-old brother, Justin.
"It hurt when Coach Kill left but he was a man about it and I respected his decision,'' Lynch said. "It would have been selfish for me to leave the team behind. Things happen in life. After I met Coach (Dave) Doeren and his staff, I knew it wasn't going to be bad.''
Who knew a blue-collar kid from Chicago would work hard enough to become one of college football's best success stories?
In his first year replacing Chandler Harnish, Lynch has set an NCAA record for most consecutive 100-yard rushing games for a quarterback (eight). He became the only quarterback with two games of 150 yards passing and rushing. He has 19 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. So overwhelming are Lynch's statistics that nobody rolled their eyes when NIU rolled out a modest Heisman Trophy campaign to bring attention to the carbohydrate-loading boy who grew into a solid 6-foot, 216-pound young man.
"Having these kinds of numbers now is pretty shocking to me,'' Lynch admitted.
His surprising impact begins to sink in on nights like last Friday. Back home with a rare weekend off, Lynch was relaxing about 9:30 p.m. when his doorbell rang. About 10 neighborhood kids from St. Christina's grade-school football team wanted to know if Lynch could speak to them on the eve of their big game.
"They just wanted to hang out and take a picture with Jordan,'' Sheila Lynch said.
It's an image every college football program should be lucky enough to project.
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