Oct. 13, 2016
Andy Demetra | Inside the Chart –
Players change uniform numbers for a variety of reasons. Some do it out of superstition. Others do it for sentimental reasons — they want their old high school number back, they want to pay tribute to a teammate, a family member, etc.
Georgia Tech A-back Clinton Lynch had his own motivation for switching from No. 49 to No. 22 in the offseason. And it had nothing to do with paying homage to former Tech running back and two-time ACC rushing champion Tashard Choice.
“I just felt like 49 was kind of an ugly number,” the redshirt sophomore explained. “I don’t know. I just felt like I was too close to 50, being a skill player.”
In other words, Lynch wanted a number that looked, well, faster.
He also may have wanted to escape the notoriously acerbic wit of his head coach.
“I kept telling him that his jersey number was his 40 time,” joked Paul Johnson. “He kept wanting to change and I told when he got under 4.9, I’d give him a different number.”
Johnson smiled. “He was always under 4.9. I just liked to mess with him.”
Whatever the reason, the change has done him good. The 6-0, 187-pound Lynch has emerged as an electric, elusive presence in the Yellow Jackets’ backfield, averaging a whopping 15.5 yards per touch entering Georgia Tech’s contest versus Georgia Southern on Saturday (12:30 p.m. EDT, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network).
“Every time he gets it, it could be a house call,” said center Freddie Burden.
|Clinton Lynch – 2016||No.||Yards||Avg.|
Lynch’s name may not appear on any national leaderboards – the NCAA requires a minimum of 10 carries per game – but his workload has reached the point where his production isn’t exactly a blip, either.
“Clinton’s been an amazing guy. He really is. He’s probably not the fastest guy at that position or whatever. But he just makes plays. And when he gets the ball, he has a knack for making people miss,” Johnson said.
“I just try to run where the hole is, try to read my blocks pretty well and really just run hard. Just give it my all and try to be fast,” explained Lynch.
It was a fittingly low-key answer for the Norcross, Ga., native, who has drawn as much praise for his poise as his production.
“Clinton’s best attribute is he doesn’t get rattled,” Johnson said, relating a story from the fourth quarter of Georgia Tech’s game at Pittsburgh last Saturday. “Right before we scored the go-ahead touchdown, we had a timeout. I walked out on the field. They were so hyper. He was like, `Guys, it’s alright. Just calm down. We’re gonna [score].'”
Sure enough, Lynch reamined calm, did his job and threw a huge block to seal the edge for fellow A-back J.J. Green to get upfield and cap off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
“He’s just level throughout the whole game, even when he busts his long runs. That’s just his mannerism,” quarterback Justin Thomas added.
Lynch may look at ease in the Jackets’ option offense, but his learning curve was steeper than most when he arrived on The Flats in 2014. At Norcross High, where he won a pair of state championships, Lynch primarily played wideout in a spread offense. Every other school recruited him as a wide receiver. He instead signed with Georgia Tech, with plans on becoming an A-back. His leap of faith was rooted in other reasons, too.
“I’m only 20 minutes away from home. Just having my family come and see me play, that was a big part of it,” he said.
He admits to his struggles learning the reads and blocking schemes of Tech’s option offense, especially during his redshirt year. He didn’t feel like everything clicked until — what else — his first touchdown, a 45-yard romp against Tulane in Week Two last season.
“I was like, `Okay, I can do this,'” he recalled.
“That kind of put him on the scene. Then, after that, he took off,” said Thomas.
Lynch has barely broken stride since. With each long run, he’ll continue to follow the playmaking precedent of his father, Clinton Sr., a former running back for Illinois in the early 90’s (fun fact: Clinton Sr. lost in the 1992 Holiday Bowl to a Hawaii team coached by then-offensive coordinator Paul Johnson).
Still, though, Lynch can’t seem to escape some good-natured ribbing. Lately his Dad has joined the fray.
“‘You think you’re faster than me now?'” Lynch says his father asks him.
He might want to check the numbers.