Lynch's success a family affair

Jordan Lynch's success on the football field has taken on a larger-than-life persona for his family. Courtesy of Lynch family

CHICAGO -- Jim and Sheila Lynch are talking about what initially brought their son to Northern Illinois, rehashing all of the near-offers, hesitations and other excuses bestowed upon the quarterback from coaches along the recruiting trail. They are sitting on the big red sofa in the living room of their Mount Greenwood home, a bungalow located just inside Chicago's city limits. This was where their son Jordan was lying down after another offer-less trip five years ago, to Ball State. Barely cracking the thresholds of six feet and 200 pounds, he'd heard that he was undersized. He'd been told that he could never play quarterback at the major college level, not after running Frank Lenti's veer offense at Mount Carmel High School, where he threw the ball no more than a dozen times a game.

Still, he already had another camp scheduled for the following week at Purdue, the program that calls itself the Cradle of Quarterbacks.

But Lenti -- known affectionately in these circles as Coach Frank -- had vouched for his signal-caller to then-NIU coach Jerry Kill. Coach Frank and Kill had crossed paths across the Midwest over the years. On this June day of Jordan's junior year, his father would not take no for an answer.

"It was like the fourth camp, it was under the lights on a Friday," Jim Lynch says, wearing a red Huskies crew sweatshirt. "I said: 'Jordan, c'mon. We're gonna go up to Northern.' He goes: 'Dad, I'm tired. I really don't wanna go to Northern.'"

"Because we just got home from Ohio," Sheila adds.

"He goes: 'Dad, I really don't wanna go up to Northern's camp. I don't really know too much about it,'" Jim continues. "And I said: 'Well it's on a Friday, and there's no other camps. Let's go. It's under the lights.'

"Took him there. Loved it. He met the coaches. He described the coaches that he met, Coach Kill and his staff, like they were the Mount Carmel coaches, like Coach Frank. Immediately he took a liking and never looked back. He lit it up. Just everything seemed to work out for him. He just goes there and puts the work in and lets everything else take care of itself."

The rest, as Kill later said, is history.

Lynch became just the third player from the Mid-American Conference to be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, where he placed third in the voting on Dec. 14, a result of his more than 4,500 yards of offense, his 45 touchdowns, a relentless marketing effort from his school and his Huskies' 12-1 record this season.

But the seeds for those credentials were planted and manifested through the last 15 years here in Mount Greenwood, where the biggest football exploits of late come from nearby St. Xavier, winner of the NAIA national title two years ago. Basketball draws attention year-round here, and Jordan's father and his older brother, Jim Jr., even refer to themselves as former baseball players, mentors who could not keep a younger Jordan from practice as a running back for the Mount Greenwood Colts back in his super-pee wee days.

Jordan got to hold the Heisman Trophy when former winner and Chicago native Johnny Lattner brought it to a youth awards banquet roughly a decade ago, but that had been about as close as the honor -- or even the mere mention of it -- has been to this area in recent memory.

Until now.

Just hearing his son's name now associated with the Heisman, Jim says, is "overwhelming."

"It's awesome," Jim Jr. says, adding, "Not many people can say how many Heisman candidates you know personally."

"From this neighborhood ... " Dad adds.

"How many people you know have won a Heisman?" Jim Jr. asks rhetorically. "Unless you're one of those big southern states or Texas that gets there regularly, no one over here gets something like that. So to see him getting that kind of recognition with the Heisman Trophy, just even to get invited to New York for something like that is awesome. Just that spotlight on him is cool."

Like most in this predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood, Jordan grew up rooting for Notre Dame. His favorite movie was "Rudy." And when Charlie Weis was among the coaches visiting Mount Carmel to check on one of Jordan's high school teammates, linebacker Steve Filer, Jordan pined to meet the Irish boss, who, Jim said, showed little interest.

Fast-forward five years to Sept. 22, 2012, the day Jordan poured in 369 yards to lift NIU past Kansas in Weis' fourth game as the Jayhawks' head coach. After the game, Weis sought out Jordan on the field to make amends for the oversight back when he was a prep junior, his dad said.

Jim tells this with the family prince just two spots over on the couch: 10-year-old Justin, his third son, who is currently sporting a white NIU No. 6 T-shirt with an Orange Bowl logo plastered on the chest.

"He has every bit or more of what Jordan had at his age," Jim says.

"He's been throwing the ball," Jim Jr. adds. "We've been playing with him since he was 6 months old."

Sheila says, "Yeah, he's pretty good at basketball, baseball, football" -- before the embarrassed fifth-grader chimes in, "I'm not that good."

Dad says: "So lemme tell ya. If it's time for him to go to college and if any of these college coaches miss on this one, we're gonna make 'em pay again, right Justin?"

"Yeahhh, sure," he replies in resignation.

For what it's worth, Justin already has his sights set on Northwestern or Stanford. Jordan throws with his little brother whenever he gets some time back home, and the parallels are hard to miss for the family. Jim, who has become so immersed in breaking down Jordan's techniques that the son often reminds his father that he never played the game, jokes that his two older sons corrupted Justin early.

"I had a handle on Jordan 'til he was in like high school," Jim said, turning to look at Justin. "This guy's got me already."

Father's response to the jabs?

"What am I supposed to say?" he says with a laugh.

It is one of the few moments that leaves Jim speechless. The bald, barrel-chested man with a thick Chicago accent could be mistaken for a bouncer at Bourbon Street, the pub right around the corner from here. He has worked for the city for 20 years, driving a pink sweeper by Millennium Park on the overnight shift, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., after Sheila returns home from her job at a corrugated packaging company. There, she has had cardboard big heads made of Jordan and his teammates.

She ran into some trouble with the big heads last season, when airport security officials would not let them on the plane back from the Orange Bowl.

"I said, Well I'm gonna leave my son in the garbage can!" Sheila laughed.

By the time the family had landed back in Chicago, their trash had become someone else's treasure, with photos of the discarded big heads popping up on Twitter.

"Honestly, it hasn't really kicked in," Jordan said of the attention more than a year later, calling it "surreal."

Jordan was introduced to the weight room by his father when he reached high school. His father still hits the gym daily. Jim Jr., 25, has aspirations of opening his own gym one day.

The family's only brush with Manhattan came during NIU's trip to Army last year, when Jim was psyched to check out the renowned Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym in Syosset, about 90 minutes from West Point. Weekend traffic ruined those plans, but the family's competitive itch remains evident through everyday life.

As a high school freshman, a 155-pound Jordan would regularly disturb his mother's sleeping patterns, heading to the kitchen -- right outside his parents' room -- at 2 or 3 a.m. to munch on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A diet that initially consisted of mostly chicken breasts and protein shakes has evolved in recent years to include sushi and salmon. He gets plenty of mileage out of his George Foreman grill every summer. Chipotle trips are a must whenever he is home.

If he has a sweet tooth, his family has never noticed it. He recently ordered a Sprite while out at dinner, which was enough to draw funny looks from his family.

"When he goes out to eat, I don't know how he affords to feed himself sometimes, because he don't just get one thing, he's gotta get two," Jim said, adding that Jordan will be hungry again not even two hours later.

Both Jims marveled recently at Jordan, home for Thanksgiving following a Tuesday night game, going to the gym to get a run in despite heavy limping from that week's game against Western Michigan.

"He's got a very boring life, trust me," his father quipped. "It's football, eating and working out."

Two of the more remarkable characteristics of the 23-year-old Jordan's career are, in some ways, intertwined.

The first: He never played quarterback until high school, when Lenti, the 30-year veteran coach at Mount Carmel, sensed that the speedster could be an ideal fit to run his famed triple-option offense.

"Freshman year you could see that he was developing some leadership skills, so we brought him to the varsity as a sophomore, which gave him a lot more reps at the higher rate of speed of which the game was played," Lenti said. "And then he was prepared and ready to go as a junior. That put him in position to be a two-year starter for us. And for many of our quarterbacks over the years, that's kind of been the process, that they come to the varsity as backups as a sophomore, then become starters as juniors and seniors."

Plenty of comparisons have been drawn to another Mount Carmel product who drew zero Big Ten offers before carving his way to a fifth-place finish in the Heisman voting.

"Frank said, 'This kid is the best kid I've had since Donovan McNabb,'" Kill said. "And I mean, when you say that, Donovan McNabb's pretty damn good. Frank's just an honest guy, so when he tells you something you better listen, and I was fortunate that I listened."

Kill joked that everyone likes to take credit for a recruiting success story, and he ultimately praises the Lynch family for their firm commitment after that June camp in Jordan's junior year. Kill had looked beyond the limited number of passes Jordan threw in high school and, since leaving for Minnesota three years ago, he has seen the quarterback throw and run his way to a BCS berth last year and a Heisman trip this year. Which sheds light on the other defining characteristic of Jordan's career: His durability. He has never been hurt. At least not playing football.

"He had no broken bones," his mother says.

"What about when he hurt his leg?" his father replies.

"Oh no, I ... " Sheila says, her voice horrified.

The family is back on the red couch, with Jordan's trophies, plaques, photos and other mementos now spread across the living room table.

Jordan was 6 or 7 years old, playing catch with a neighbor back when the family lived in nearby Bridgeport. A new house was being built on the block, and there was no construction fence where the foundation was poured, and Jordan was running to get a ball that he missed and ...

"Trips, falls in-between the earth and the foundation," Jim says, "and on the way down falling, the piece of rebar stuck him in the side of the butt and ripped him all the way down to his knee."

Sheila corrects, "Not down to his knee, no, but just kind of an L-shape."

"Kind of like right on his side," Jim Jr. adds.

The family jumped in the car, took Jordan to the hospital and, upon arrival, noticed a hole in his leg that exposed bone and left a scar that still remains.

"He had to stay like that in the emergency room for an hour or two until they got all the specialists in there to see if there was any nerve damage or anything," Jim says. "But lemme tell ya something, that was probably one of the sickest things I've ever seen. I was like, Oh my god, how are they gonna close it? Because it was so wide open. I didn't see they could just pull the skin back together and staple him.

"We get him home ... "

"... A week later," Sheila continues.

"Bumps it and busts a couple staples open," Jim says. "He has to go back."