N. Illinois looking to show it belongs

MIAMI — Let's not start talking about Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch with the legs that ran for 1,771 yards, an NCAA record for a quarterback, or the right arm that threw for 2,962 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.

Let's start with the neck.

Lynch's neck is a big, thick one, carrying his head as securely as Lynch carries the NIU offense. Few pencil-necks inhabit college football locker rooms. But Lynch's neck looks like it belongs on a strong safety or an offensive lineman, guys used to giving a hit, taking a hit and moving on with things. It figures Lynch, a second team All-American as an all-purpose player, lives with three linemen.

"It's just building chemistry, know what they're doing," he said. "I think that's huge for a quarterback. Just like any of us, I have a chip on my shoulder. I felt like I could've gone somewhere else coming out of high school and I was either too small, too slow or didn't run the right system. So, I play with a chip on my shoulder."

Lynch's stats are gaudy. He isn't.

"Probably the toughest player I've ever seen," NIU quarterbacks coach Bob Cole said. "I've been coaching for quite some time now, 25 years, and I've never see a player take the pounding he takes. Just a tough kid from the South Side of Chicago who loves to play football."

And loves to play quarterback, though Lynch's running ability shows the instincts of a running back. He played running back through his football life until his freshman year at Chicago Mount Carmel High. Then, coaches asked him to run their triple-option attack.

So, he did, throwing only eight to 10 times a game. Those are the quarterbacks listed under "athlete" these days in the recruiting rankings and who wind up running backs, wide receivers and safeties in college football. But Lynch didn't want to change. He admired Nebraska's Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch.

Only one school saw Lynch as a quarterback — NIU or, rather, then-NIU coach Jerry Kill. After a one-day camp, Kill offered Lynch a scholarship.

NIU players often mention how close they are and how many characters pack the roster. At first glance, you might not think that includes the quarterback. Lynch speaks with Midwestern modesty, deflecting credit to everyone else outside the spotlight that has been on him this season and, especially, this week. He says he doesn't keep up with his Twitter account. No matter what he's saying, his speech manner is as matter-of-fact as an off-tackle play.

Yet, there's a jocularity to his leadership style, according to senior wide receiver Martel Moore. Moore recalls miscommunication between he and Lynch leading to a 54-yard interception-return touchdown that put Kansas up 23-13 in the fourth on NIU this season.

"He came to the sidelines and started laughing ... 'it's your fault, it's my fault,'" Moore said.

"I loosen guys up," Lynch said. "It's like you're playing backyard football. Like you're a little kid and having fun. A lot of people forget this game is to have fun. That's how I lead. I have fun and when things are going badly, I'll be the voice of the offense."

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