Raiders ruin homecoming for Oakland Tech’s Lynch
on November 1, 2010
Marshawn Lynch, the often written and talked-about NFL player who graduated from Oakland Tech High School, made his hometown pro football debut during a trip to Oakland this weekend as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
He was fresh off a trade that sent him from the Buffalo Bills to the Seahawks. But the visit home didn’t go quite as he had expected.
He had planned to unleash his Beast Mode and let it loose on the Silver and Black. Beast Mode is what Lynch calls his on-field persona—a running force that won’t be denied, that demands at least two tacklers. It’s something he says he learned from growing up in Oakland.
“It’s just a feeling, man, a mindset of willingness, want to—the have-to,” Lynch explained earlier last week. “It’s a go-get-it attitude that came from Oakland. They say Oakland is a tough place that has built tough people, and that’s how they feel. If they want something, they’re going to go get it.”
He was looking forward to spending some time with his family, and eating some home-cooked food. His Auntie Deborah makes one of his favorites, gumbo. His grandfather, “Papa Lynch,” was planning to make another of Marshawn’s favorites, his trademark lemon cake.
Although his mother Delisa had previously seen Marshawn play several times during his time in Buffalo, she estimated that between 30 and 40 relatives and close friends came to the Coliseum to be on hand and support him. When she finally watched her son trot out onto the field, Delisa said, she was overwhelmed with joy.
“Words don’t describe,” she said. “To have my mom, dad and my children—his siblings—there just felt good. It felt like home.”
Lynch’s high school coach, Tech’s Delton Edwards, who shares a father-son relationship with him, said he thought the sentimentality of Lynch’s first game in the Bay Area since leaving Cal, after the 2006 season, would have no affect on the player.
“Marshawn is just low-key,” Edwards said at Tech’s evening practice last week. “It’s just another football game. That’s one thing I’d say about him—he’s always on the same plateau. He never gets nervous. He’s like that old basketball player ‘Never Nervous Pervis (Ellison). He’s ‘Never Nervous Marshawn.’ But I know he’ll be excited, because he hasn’t played in the Coliseum since we won the Silver Bowl.”
The Silver Bowl is the Oakland Athletic League (OAL) high school football championship game. Tech made it back to this game again last season, but the only year the school has ever won it was in 2003, when Lynch was the leading talent among a core group of seniors.
Lynch was the Bills’ first-round choice in the 2007 NFL Draft. Since that time, he has become a bit of a symbol for the Tech Bulldog program.
“When you’re a first-round pick, I mean, there’s like an aura to it,” Edwards explained. “People look at that. There aren’t too many guys that come out of Oakland, especially in the first round. Plus he went to college here. He’s a Bay Area hero—Pop Warner, high school and college.”
In fact, to Edwards’ recollection, that’s the highest a former OAL player has ever been selected in the modern era’s professional football draft. “You’ve got to go way back for one,” he said.
He’s right. One would have to look up another Tech grad to find someone taken higher—legendary San Francisco 49er quarterback John Brodie, who was chosen with the third overall pick in the 1957 draft. Other notable OAL players drafted more recently are two former Skyline students, both taken in the second round: running back Theotis Brown II, to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979, and offensive lineman Marvel Smith, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000.
Perhaps for this reason, it is not uncommon to spot both players and coaches at Tech sporting the Beast Mode T-shirts that Lynch hands out at a free youth football camp each summer. Along with fellow teammates Josh Johnson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Virdell Larkins, Jr., assistant coach at Contra Costa Community College, from that special 2003 team, Lynch helps host the annual mid-July clinic, which draws players from as far as Los Angeles.
“They built this program,” said Edwards. “I mean, just being around these kids, letting them see the opportunities. They come back and spend time, and some of the knowledge that they learned from us, and then they transfer it to these guys about the life experiences they’re going through. So I think that’s the special part about it.”
Led by Lynch, these former Bulldogs also donate financially. Aside from paying for everything at the 600-kid camp—“Anything he buys for the camp stays here,” said Edwards, referring to Tech—Lynch provides for several other charitable events as well.
Since signing a professional contract, he has helped set up a turkey drive hosted at Tech the Sunday before Thanksgiving, which falls on November 21 this year. In 2009, players and coaches met up to give away 175 frozen birds, for which Edwards said Lynch simply wrote a check.
Then there’s a gift card giveaway in December, in preparation for Christmas. Lynch provides $5,000 worth of gift cards for a low-income school so that children can either get something for themselves, or buy a gift for another family member.
This past year was also the first time for a charity bowling event, at which Lynch and Johnson raffled off signed memorabilia, in addition to all-expense trips to see them play for their respective teams—airfare and tickets to each game. The money went to Playworks, a national nonprofit that, according to the organization’s website, “supports learning by providing safe, healthy and inclusive play and physical activity to schools at recess and throughout the entire school day.”
That doesn’t include the more than $10,000 of jerseys he bought for his old Tech team during his first season in the NFL; the chauffeur ride he personally gave two Bulldog players, in his Mercedes, to their junior prom last year; nor the bill Lynch paid for the funeral services for Edwards’ stepson, who died in a car accident three years ago.
“He’s been giving back ever since he’s been in the pros,” Edwards said.
Former Bulldog Fred Thompson, who is waiting for eligibility issues to clear up before he follows in Lynch’s footsteps and enters in January as a freshman at a Pac-10 conference school—Oregon State University—looks up to Lynch because of the time he has spent with the kids in the program and the things he has done for them. Thompson remembers being in the Tech weight room one day last summer along with Lynch and this year’s starting center, Simione Havea. Lynch was wearing a brand new pair of the latest Michael Jordan signature line shoes. Havea was wearing flip-flops.
“Marshawn gave him his shoes off his feet,” Thompson said. “And Marshawn worked out barefoot. He let him keep the shoes, and Marshawn just went home barefoot in his car. That is one thing I will never forget.”
While Lynch has become well known in Oakland and at the Tech program for these generous acts, it has been his off-the-field problems that the media has chosen to highlight. For most people outside of the Bay Area, it’s these legal troubles that seem to be permanently associated with his name.
Though the Alameda County district attorney never brought charges, a woman saying she was Lynch’s ex-girlfriend accused him of sexual and physical assault as he was planning to leave Cal for the NFL. Then, in May 2008, Lynch was involved in a hit-and-run accident with an intoxicated pedestrian in Buffalo, New York. He later accepted a guilty plea and his driver’s license and registration were revoked.
Then there was the concealed weapons possession charge in early 2009, just three days after Lynch made his first appearance at the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s post-season all-star game. After noticing a smell of marijuana emitting from an automobile he was in, police searched the vehicle and found a loaded gun, which later resulted in a three-game suspension by the NFL to start the 2009 season.
He is tattooed, wears long braided hair, and in college, was known for wearing a gold teeth grill. “Everybody says it’s because he’s from Oakland,” said his mother, “but I don’t think that’s true. I just look at it like, being 21, he got caught up with some of his friends. I always told him that if he stayed humble and had a small group of friends, he’d be OK.”
But now, much to her delight, she said the grill is gone and that Lynch has started to grow up. The trade to Seattle brings him in contact with some familiar faces, like former Cal teammate Justin Forsett, and closer to the Bay Area, which she thinks will continue to help him settle down and be an adult.
“When he got the news about being traded, he was so excited,” said Delisa. She said he was happy to be somewhere new and closer to home. “I’ve seen my son mature and grow up. He’s learned a lot from his mistakes.”
Lynch doesn’t seem to mind the attention that the negative things in his life have garnered in the newspapers. “The majority like to glorify the negative stuff,” he said. “They’ve got to write their story, too. But that’s their problem. I don’t mind it. Everyone that knows me knows how I get down, so let them keep writing their stories.”
As Delisa Lynch loaded up the family to make the drive in to Oakland Coliseum, she knew that having the family at the game to support her son Marshawn would have a positive influence on him. “Whenever he’s around his family, he just butters up,” she said of Marshawn. “He just loves being around his family and friends. It won’t affect his game.”
Only he knows if it did, but unfortunately for Lynch, as well as for all his fans from Oakland, the Raider defense definitely did.
From the very beginning of the game on Halloween afternoon, the Raiders battered the Seahawks offensive line, keeping the Beast in his cage. Lynch only managed seven yards on nine rushing attempts—a meager average of less than one yard per carry—despite drawing his head coach’s eye for his effort.
“It had nothing to do with him,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who while at the University of Southern California, used to coach against Lynch each year during the player’s three years at Cal. “The line of scrimmage was theirs today. He was battling like crazy. He had a great two-yard run in there at one point, and I’m cheering like crazy … he was fighting so hard. It just wasn’t a day he really even had a chance to get started.”
Oakland’s defense—statistically one of the worst against the rush this season—held Seattle to just 47 yards rushing, along with sacking quarterback Matt Hasselbeck eight times.
All of that was bad timing for Lynch, as well as for Carroll, who, like his recent high-profile addition, was making his first visit to California since leaving his coaching post at the USC for the job in Seattle in January.
“There’s no mystery to us what happened today,” said Carroll. “We got nothing done. We accomplished nothing on any aspect of our ball. We got whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
Still, Lynch was just happy to be home, his mother said—even briefly—regardless of the outcome.
“He wished it would have been a better result,” said Delisa the next day, still enthusiastic to have witnessed her son’s homecoming game. “But he said he felt good being at home with his family and friends. We sent him back with his lemon cakes.”
Lead image: Former Oakland Tech football player Marshawn Lynch returned home as a member of the Seattle Seahawks for his first game in the Bay Area as a pro. Photo by Laith Agha.
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