Several days before Baylor’s season opener against Liberty, Matt Rhule surprised sophomore wide receiver Blake Lynch with an out-of-left-field request.
He wanted Lynch to move to cornerback, the toughest position to play in the pass-happy Big 12. Lynch hadn’t played cornerback since his senior year at Gilmer High School in 2014, and even then it was on a part-time basis.
“I was a little shocked and surprised and a little hesitant at first,” Lynch said. “But as I look at the bigger picture I want to win games, so whatever they ask me to do I’ll do it. A lot of people might be intimidated by it but I like the challenge.”
Lynch has looked like he’s played cornerback his whole life as he’s tied for the team lead with freshman Harrison Hand with four pass breakups through Baylor’s first five games.
Rhule needed Lynch to play cornerback after starter Grayland Arnold broke his arm in preseason camp. Now Arnold is back and has joined Lynch as Baylor’s starting cornerback duo.
“Blake has really saved the football team because not a lot of guys would have done that,” Rhule said. “To go over and play corner in this league and to play at the level that he’s playing at is just a credit to him. Sometimes I talk about being tough, and people want to know what I mean. I want Blake Lynch.”
As a redshirt freshman last season, showed his versatility by making 34 catches for 404 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver while also rushing for 80 yards on 12 carries. The Bears needed help in the backfield last season due to injuries, and Lynch was willing to make the move when called.
But that move was easy compared to switching to cornerback for Baylor’s opener this season on a few days notice.
“It was definitely quite a change,” Lynch said. “I played a little bit of corner in high school but not much. Anytime you come from high school to play Division I football it’s really hard. To make that transition after years was very challenging, but I think Coach Rhule and Coach (Fran) Brown are real good coaches who prepare me pretty good.”
Standing 6-3, Lynch is taller than most cornerbacks and gives the Bears a physical presence against the dynamic receivers in the Big 12. His athleticism, instincts and toughness have made him a quick study at cornerback.
“His toughness, most of all, is what gets him to be a pretty good corner,” said Brown, Baylor’s defensive backs coach. “Then he has a good feel for the position as he gets smarter and smarter. He’s just a football player, so anywhere you put him he’d be able to play. He could have probably gone and played defensive end if you wanted him to. He loves to compete and loves to be taught. So everything I try to throw at him, as much as possible, he kind of just naturally takes it all in.”
Since he came to Baylor as a receiver, he had to learn how cornerbacks reacted to the routes he ran. That gave him some insight when he was switched to defense, and now he’s working on developing better technique at cornerback.
“You’ll see at times he’ll go a little bit streetballish or high school cornerback, but when you naturally just sit there and watch him you can see, ‘Oh, he’s really trying to work and learn this technique, he’s really buying in to what we do and what we say,’” Brown said. “So far, he’s probably practiced at corner less than 20 times. So he’s just getting an understanding of knowing it. I’m excited to be able to coach him. I like being around him, I like the kid he is, I like what he stands for.”
Lynch has gained strength and a sense of responsibility from his mother, Rebecca Jenkinson, who has raised Blake and his younger sister, Ashley.
“I want to give a big shout-out to my mom,” Lynch said “She’s a single mother doing whatever she can to provide for me and my sister. My mom has meant a lot to me. No matter where I play, if she can get off work she’s going to be there.”
After playing quarterback his first two years at Troup High School, Lynch transferred Gilmer for his junior year. Then-Gilmer coach Jeff Traylor saw the same qualities in Lynch that the Baylor coaches see now: A versatile, unselfish athlete who was willing to play wherever the coaches wanted him to benefit the team.
“He played wildcat quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, safety, and returned punts as well, wherever we needed him to play,” said Traylor, who is now SMU’s running backs coach. “The best part is he’s a phenomenal young man. He’s unselfish and will do whatever needs to be done, and is always happy for the other guys on team. He’s a great human being who happens to be a good football player as well.”
Nobody was more important to Gilmer’s perfect 16-0 run to the Class 4A Division II state championship in 2014 than Lynch.
Lynch was everywhere as he made 47 catches for 1,043 yards and 16 touchdowns, rushed for 888 yards and 19 touchdowns, and completed 13 of 17 passes for 289 yards and three scores. Gilmer finished the season with 950 points, the second most in Texas high school football history.
As a defensive back, he made 40 tackles, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and scored two defensive touchdowns.
Gilmer rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 35-25 win over West Orange-Stark in the state championship game. Despite playing with a pulled hamstring, Lynch ran for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to finish off the win.
“Most definitely, my high school days were the highlight of my life,” Lynch said. “Coach Traylor is a great coach and he really put me in great positions to make plays. Winning state was big for me and my team and our whole community. Gilmer has a good tradition of winning football games, and to be able to bring it home was good.”
Though Lynch was heavily recruited by schools like Clemson and Oklahoma State, he chose Baylor because it’s a Christian school a few hours from his East Texas home and he liked former coach Art Briles’ wide open offensive style.
As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Lynch saw how hard Biletnikoff Award winning receiver Corey Coleman worked to become an All-America receiver. He wanted to show the Baylor coaches that he had the same kind of work ethic.
“It was a wake-up call for me,” Lynch said. “Corey is one of the hardest working guys I know. You see him catching 20 touchdowns in a season, but they don’t see him working hard every day in practice.”
Now Lynch his putting that same kind of effort into being a starting cornerback. The Baylor coaches believe he’s just beginning to scratch the surface of what he can accomplish at his new position.
Lynch’s unselfishness has been an inspiration to his teammates and coaches.
“That’s one of the unsung stories on this football team,” Rhule said. “He just goes out there and competes no matter what, and if you beat him he gets angry. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t shrink. He goes out there and continues to try to do it.”
Traylor thinks Lynch has the potential to play in the NFL for a long time.
“If he doesn’t play in the NFL for 10 or 12 years, I’ll be shocked,” Traylor said. “He’s got a great combination of height, length, power and intelligence and a humble spirit. He has all of that.”