May 16, 2013, 11:19 AM EDT
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen defensive end Aaron Lynch on the football field. After a freshman All-American season for the Irish, Lynch left South Bend in the middle of spring practice and headed home to South Florida.
The soap opera surrounding the decision to transfer, which included social media pleas to stay by his mother, New York Giants All-Pro Justin Tuck, a young fiance in South Florida, and a firm line held by Irish head coach Brian Kelly, ended with Lynch enrolling at South Florida after finishing his spring semester at Notre Dame.
Lynch expected to play for USF head coach Skip Holtz. But after a disappointing 2012 season where the Bulls staggered to a 3-9 record, Holtz was relieved of his duties and South Florida hired Willie Taggart to run the program.
After a nice run at Western Kentucky, Taggart has energized the Bulls program. And while the media has raved about the work Taggart has done since taking over, the best recruit Taggert landed was the transfer student he inherited.
CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman caught up with Taggart, who had some interesting things to say about Lynch’s maturation and preparation while discussing the state of his football team. The whole interview is worth a read, but here’s a snippet that really caught my attention.
Q: (Aaron Lynch) was this five-star recruit and a freshman All-American at Notre Dame. How was he compared to what your expectations of him were once you get him out on the field?
Taggart: He was even more. Some of things he does. He just has a natural feel for the game. He plays with fanatical effort. He just goes. I know if he continues to play with that fanatical effort, the sky is the limit for him.
He is really good with his hands. He’s quick and really long. And the other thing that was impressive was he was doing things with knee braces on. I make all of our linemen practice with knee braces, and he was still getting it done.
Q: I noticed you guys list him at 244 (pounds). Did he lose a lot of weight when he got there?
Taggart. Yes, he did. He played at 270 at ND. In the year that he had off, he wasn’t really motivated to do anything, from what I was told and heard from everyone. He’d tell you that he wasn’t really locked in, knowing that he couldn’t play. Now, doing what he’s doing and hearing some of that noise about how he can be this or be that, he’s really taking pride in trying to be the best football player he can be.
Q: Do you want to see him back up in the 260s?
Taggart: I’d like him in the 250-260 range. He’s well put together. When he walked in the door the first time I saw him, I was like, ‘Wow!’ Without even watching him on film, you could see what everybody’s talking about. Then you watch him on film — Jeez!
He’s built like Jevon Kearse. He’s long and lean and athletic but he can put on the weight. In the spring he actually played at like 235. I think he’s at 245 now.
He has not been an issue at all. He sees the future in front of him and knows that he has a really bright future if he keeps his head on straight. He goes in the weight room and he works.
It’s probably not a surprise to Notre Dame fans that Lynch dropped 35 pounds during his self imposed sabbatical. That Taggart would openly say that Lynch, “wasn’t really motivated to do anything, from what I was told and heard from everyone,” is some pretty open candor about a player that never seemed the most disciplined to begin with, and points to a pretty inactive year off, after playing at a still-room-to-grow 270 pounds as a freshman.
What’s also no surprise are the rave reviews Lynch gets from the USF staff. Taggart talked about the lessons he’s been giving Lynch since he arrived in Tampa, especially with Lynch now a young married man with a future that’s very much in his hands.
The new USF coach probably puts it best when he tells Feldman, “I don’t talk about football much with him. I don’t think he’d fail at football. It’d either be something either academically or socially that could get in his way. In football, he’s a beast out there, so you just try to make sure he has everything else in perspective and help make sure that he’s a great husband because that’s something that is important to me. We talk about that constantly.”
Lynch’s on-field development took a major detour last season. It’s hard to imagine that he’d still be worried about adding bulk — Taggart wants him playing in the 260 range — if he had stayed in the Irish development cycle.
Yet after all the drama that’s surrounded Lynch and his departure from Notre Dame, it’ll be fun to get a chance to finally play football again, even if it isn’t for the team Irish fans hoped.