GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Finding inspiration was the easy part for Cameron Lynch. All he had to do was walk out to a varsity high school football game and focus on the undersized linebacker making all the tackles.
Lynch, in middle school at the time, had a similar size and also played linebacker. If the undersized player in front of him could make all the plays, Lynch could, too, when he got his chance. He vowed to make them even better.
Trying to get there? Well, that would be the hard part.
Because that linebacker was one of the top prospects at his position despite his smaller stature. Rennie Curran racked up 198 tackles one year, and had 13 sacks the next on his way to a scholarship offer from Georgia. Curran made an immediate impact with the Bulldogs, too, eventually becoming an All-SEC player and third-round NFL draft pick.
All those accolades served as motivation for Lynch, happy to follow the footsteps. His mom made a poster for his room, detailing all Curran’s stats, along with his numbers in the weight room. Whatever Curran did, Lynch wanted to do.
“He set the bar,” said Lynch, now a senior linebacker at Syracuse. “He put up major numbers. He inspired me to do a lot of things that I've done so far, and I look up to him a lot.”
Lynch put up nearly identical numbers at Brookwood High in Snellville, Georgia. He had 188 tackles his senior season, and ended up breaking Curran’s sack record. He also led Brookwood to a state championship, something Curran was unable to do.
Still, Curran received interest from the SEC’s big-time programs. The only SEC school to offer Lynch was Vanderbilt. The two had nearly identical size (both 5-foot-11 and about 225 pounds) and nearly identical numbers. But in Lynch’s case, his smaller stature scared off some schools.
Not Syracuse. Coach Scott Shafer said Lynch’s performance in the state championship game remains “one of the best high school performances from a linebacker that I've ever watched.” Lynch ended up choosing Syracuse over Harvard and Vanderbilt, giving himself an opportunity to excel both in the classroom and on the football field.
But Curran was never far from his mind. Lynch eventually reached out to his role model for advice. The two formed a friendship, and Curran still mentors Lynch to this day.
“I go back to Brookwood a lot to speak, and I always hear how he plays like me,” Curran said in a recent phone interview. “It's an awesome feeling. When you work hard at something and put your passion into it and overcome adversity, you think you’re going at it by yourself sometimes. But when you look back, you realize you inspire other people indirectly just by overcoming different obstacles.”
The best piece of advice Curran has given Lynch, from one undersized linebacker to another?
“The biggest key is just consistent and persistent effort, just fighting hard and being mindful of trying to be the first guy to the ball every play, every down,” said Curran, who now plays in the CFL with Edmonton. “Doing the extra work in the weight room, in the film room, doing all the little things that can help you overcome not being the prototypical size.”
Lynch has been among the hardest workers at Syracuse, and he also happens to be one of its strongest – earning him a spot on the NFL.com ‘Freaks’ list for his combination of speed (4.7 40-yard dash) and strength (435-pound bench press, 620-pound squat).
He finished last season with 69 tackles (12 for loss) and four sacks but wants to bump those numbers higher, following the same upward trajectory he had in high school. His goal? One hundred tackles. Shafer said Lynch can get there before quickly saying, “Hopefully he can't get it because it means we're not on the field.”
After the season, a shot in the NFL awaits. Curran says “without a doubt” Lynch has what it takes to play in the NFL, but also added that he would need to be in the perfect system and with the right coaching staff since measurables hold much more significance in the pros.
Curran saw his NFL career cut short for a variety of reasons, including coaching staff changes. He detailed his experiences in a book he wrote called, “Free Agent.” Lynch read the book, leading to a discussion between the two about future prospects.
“I try to be real with him and let him know not only the importance of his senior year, but also the business side. There's so much to it,” Curran said. “I think he's going to be just fine. He's got a great head on his shoulders. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have your head right, it really doesn't matter. That's one thing I feel confident in with him. He's a great kid. He has his head on right. He's going to be successful whether he plays football or not.”