Saturday, March 24, 2012

Notre Dame football: Lynch strikes a balance to up his game

SOUTH BEND - The traces of an old school soul are so much more obvious now.

Aaron Lynch no longer has to be talked into playing within the
structure of Notre Dame?s defense. The sophomore-to-be defensive end
now preaches it.

He basks in the pride that his single mom, Alice, taught him to play
football. He perceives that All-America linebacker Manti Te?o is every
bit as valuable as a mentor as he is a teammate.

And that Vince Lombardi quote that?s been tattooed on his right
forearm since his sophomore year at Island Coast High School in Cape
Coral, Fla.? It?s finally become more mantra than wishful thinking.

?Football is like life ? it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard
work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.?

It?s not that the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder has moved completely beyond
that raw edginess that resulted in bulletin board fodder for upcoming
opponent Pitt during the only in-season interview he was allowed to do
and materialized in a cascade of penalty flags on the field throughout
a freshman All-America season.

But there?s a synthesis now, a harmony between havoc and discipline
that kicks the already lofty trajectory Lynch was expected to follow
up a few degrees.

?At the beginning, I was childish,? he said Friday after practice No.
2 of 15 this spring. ?And me, I have a short temper, so you yell at
me, and I?m ready to fire back at you. It can?t be like that now, so
I?m a lot better at that.?

Lynch characterized ND academic counselors Colleen Ingelsby and Adam
Sargent as annoying, yet in the same mouthful praised them for pushing
him to achieve a 3.0 GPA last fall.

He still loathes the South Bend climate as a whole, the record heat
wave of recent days notwithstanding, still tiptoes through a culture
he was never sure he?d blend in with. But if he ever was looking for a
trap door, the search has long ended.

?Actually, I did surprise myself,? Lynch said of the comfortable fit,
especially academically. ?I didn?t think I was going to do as well as
I?m doing.?

Some of that has to do with Alice Lynch. She packed up her life a few
months after her son enrolled at ND last January and resettled in
Ohio, about a three-hour drive from South Bend.

?She gets to come to every game, and I get to go home every weekend,?
Lynch said. ?And she?s an amazing cook.?

She is also an amazing football presence ? one of many voices that
continue to push Lynch beyond simply his breathtaking innate physical

?I like getting pushed,? he said. ?I feel like no one has to push me,
because I push myself. But I like getting pushed by other people. I
like coach (Brian Kelly) yelling at me. I don?t have a problem with
that. I don?t have a problem with the guys yelling at me. It?s fine.
It just makes me push even more.?

Perhaps his most impressive push was being at his best in the final 4?
games of the season while playing with an ankle injury suffered Nov. 5
at Wake Forest.

?It was painful but then again you?ve got to do it,? he said. ?I
certainly wasn?t going to let an ankle keep me out of the game.?

Lynch finished the 2011 season with 33 tackles, more than half of
those coming after the ankle sprain. He also had seven tackles for
loss, a team-leading 5? sacks, a forced fumble and two pass breakups.
His 14 quarterback hurries were the most by an Irish defender since
the school began charting the stat in 1998.

?If you don?t play with intensity and with a passion,? he said, ?then
you shouldn?t be on the field.?

Classmate and bookend defensive end Stephon Tuitt feeds that passion.
He too somehow transcended seemingly unfairly high expectations last
season and channeled the growing pains into quantum leaps of progress.

?We both have the same mind-set,? Lynch said of his 6-6, 295-pound
counterpart. ?We want to play. We want to help out the team. We both
have an intensity to go out there and kill. That?s how we get along.?

That?s not to say the rough edges will ever completely disappear from
Lynch?s game.

?The thing is, honestly, every year I?m going to get some yellow
flags, because that?s the way I play football,? he said. ?That?s my
intensity. It happens. I?m not going to go intentionally do it, but
the next 2-3-4 years I?m going to get more yellow flags.?

Indeed, it?s part of the big picture who Aaron Lynch is, but the
swirls around it are so much sharper in focus, so much more in
balance, so much more the vision Kelly saw when he wrestled Lynch away
from Florida State in the 11th hour of the 2011 recruiting cycle.

Lynch, in turn, already has a clear vision for what his life at ND
away from football will look like. He wants to major in literature and
poetry. He says the poems he writes for his girlfriend are the same
ones that earn him A?s in the classroom.

Now he?s ready to write the next chapter on the field as well.

?We want to be the No. 1 defense in the country,? he said. ?Last year
was a great ride. Really, it was fun. I got to play. I got to help out
my team. That?s what I came here to do. But now I want more.

?I know my talents and I know what I can do. I wouldn?t have been
recruited by ND if I wasn?t that guy.?

Staff writer Eric Hansen:


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