Freeport grad Lynch helps Case Western Reserve to 4-0
When Case Western Reserve ran a reverse wide receiver pass earlier this season, the Spartans called on freshman Ryan Coolidge to throw the ball.
He was intercepted.
“I told him, ‘Geez, if I wanted that, I would have had (Brendan) Lynch throw it,' ” Case Western coach Greg Debeljak said, laughing.
For his part, Lynch — a former Freeport quarterback turned wide receiver who threw a touchdown pass on a similar play two seasons ago — jokes that he's glad he could keep his perfect collegiate completion percentage intact.
But forget about passing the football: Lynch is making much more of an impact catching it.
The 5-foot-8 senior sparkplug is experiencing a career year at his adopted position, moving all over the field in Case Western's offense and making plays wherever he lines up. He has 39 receptions for a career-high 564 yards and seven touchdowns, spearheading the passing attack for the Presidents' Athletic Conference championship hopeful Spartans.
It's proving especially valuable in a season when Case Western (4-0, 3-0) lost three of its four expected starting wide receivers to injury.
“When everybody went down with the injuries, that was kind of a reality shock for me.” Lynch said. “I knew I needed to step up big time, and I've just been put in a real good position to succeed. Our coaches are moving me around and finding matchups I can try to exploit, and a lot of the younger receivers are stepping up, too.”
The transition from quarterback to wide receiver took time for Lynch, a former three-sport star at Freeport, but he was beginning to feel comfortable until he tore the ACL in his left knee as a sophomore.
He returned last season, finishing with 42 receptions and a touchdown as Case Western tied for third place in the PAC.
But he said he struggled to overcome the mental hurdles associated with recovery from his injury.
“I didn't think anything about it when I was (rehabbing) down at the high school at Freeport running routes or running on the track,” Lynch said. “It wasn't affecting me, so I thought I'd be fine. But whenever I came back to camp and started playing real competition, I just felt I didn't have much confidence at all.
“I could feel myself being hesitant to go as hard as I could because the way I (hurt) my ACL was just on a standard cut, so that was always in the back of my mind last year, making me a little bit hesitant. Even though it was just the slightest bit, I could see it in my performance, and I could feel it.”
Lynch became more confident in the knee during spring football, and he dedicated himself to getting better physically in the offseason. He began a diet — cutting out junk food and eating more chicken, steak, fruit and vegetables — and ran and caught passes more frequently.
“It's always tough, especially when I've got three brothers in my house and we're always eating junk food,” said Lynch, who said giving up fried foods like chicken strips and wings and mozzarella sticks was toughest. “But I did a decent job of trying to avoid that stuff.”
Lynch reported for camp about 10 pounds lighter — he's down to between 170 and 175 — and noticably faster, and he's using it to his advantage. Although he worked mostly as an inside receiver previously, he's lining up all over the field now, especially with the injuries.
“I think he's developed into just a very good all-around wide receiver.” Debeljak said. “He's a good route-runner, and his ball skills have improved greatly. Now he's definitely one of our most surest receivers as far as catching the ball with his hands, and he's just a guy with explosiveness.
“When the ball's in his hands, he can make people miss and accelerate up the field.”
As the experienced receiver in a young corps, Lynch — a lead-by-example type — is taking on a more vocal role.
He hopes now he can help lead Case Western to its first PAC championship since joining the conference in 2014.
“We're just trying to have fun, play with confidence and play fast out there and take things one game at a time,” said Lynch, a chemical engineering major who hopes to attend medical school in the future. “I think we can still continue to be successful if we stick to that motto.”