Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn would have traveled to Mobile for this year's Senior Bowl anyway. He is among several Jets coaches, scouts and front office personnel who go to Alabama each January in hopes of finding the next piece to the Green & White roster. The game provides the final opportunity for college seniors to display their skills in a game situation before the April draft.
However, this year was different. Joining him in Mobile was his son, Penn State cornerback D'Anton Lynn.
"It's just another week, it's nothing special," said the elder Lynn, jokingly. "No, it's neat to see him compete with some of the best talent in the country. This is a dream for him. This is something he's always wanted. It's good to see that hard work pay off."
D'Anton was a three-year CB starter for Penn State, which finished this season at 9-4 after a loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl. A three-time All-Big Ten honorable mention, he was called on to lock down some of the conference's top receivers. He finished the 2011 season with nine pass breakups, third-most in the Big Ten. He had two tackles for the North in its 23-13 win over the South in the Senior Bowl.
"I just want to come out here and show these coaches how hard I work and how hard I compete," said D'Anton. "I want to have fun at the same time, and hopefully I can prove to someone at this game that I'm good enough to be on their team."
D'Anton and the other 103 participants in the Senior Bowl had the same goal. It's an opportunity for NFL player personnel staffs to scout not only a player's athletic ability but also his personality. As the son of a two-time Super Bowl champion, D'Anton knows what will separate him from the rest of the pack.
"There are so many players with so much natural ability that he says get cut every year because they don't put in the time in the meeting room," said the younger Lynn, "whereas people with not as much ability make teams that way."
"I Try to Outwork Everyone"
D'Anton was in the stands for both of Anthony's Super Bowl championships while a member of the 1998-99 Denver Broncos. Growing up so close to the game, the younger Lynn quickly learned the key to a long career in the NFL.
"I've seen it first-hand my entire life," said D'Anton. "I watch a lot of film. I work really hard and I try to outwork everyone, even if they're more talented than I am."
Anthony enjoyed a six-year NFL career, four with the Broncos and two with the 49ers. With only 28 career rushing attempts and three career receptions, he had to prove his worth in other areas. His work ethic made its way through the Lynn family gene pool to his son.
"He showed ability at a very young age," said Anthony. "But it takes a lot more than talent to make it in this league. Only one percent of these kids are going to be with us next year, so if you happen to be in the 1.5 percent, that's not good enough."
That mentality is exactly what kept Lynn in the NFL, and it's what he tries to instill in the current stock of Jets tailbacks. Under his tutelage, RB Shonn Greene has become a legitimate starting halfback. This season Greene reached the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. Lynn also helped develop Joe McKnight, the NFL's leading kick returner in 2011. FB John Conner continues to develop as a top run blocker, and rookie RB Bilal Powell holds promise as a weapon in the future.
Ironically, with all his offensive knowledge and skills, Anthony's son became a defender.
"Ever since he was little, I noticed he had a bite that I didn't have," said Anthony. "That's why I played offense. I encouraged him to pursue the defensive side of the ball."
In high school back in Celina, Texas, D'Anton played defensive back, linebacker, quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The one-man team led his Bobcats to the 2007 Texas Class 3A Division 2 state championship with a 16-0 record. He became one of the top DB recruits in the nation before choosing Penn State.
"The Business We Chose"
With conflicting schedules, it became difficult for Anthony to see D'Anton play in many games during the season. Yet thanks to an understanding head coach in Rex Ryan, he was able to catch his son's Nittany Lions a few times each year.
"I was really blessed," said Anthony. "I got to see him play at least twice a year. Rex was really flexible with my schedule and allowed me to do that. It was tough not being able to see him play every Saturday, but it's the business we chose."
D'Anton has been invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-28. According to Anthony, NFL scouts are looking for D'Anton to make a position move to safety. Lynn the father projects his son as a low-round pick right now.
It doesn't matter to D'Anton which position he plays in the NFL. The achievement of his lifelong goal is what matters most.
"I just want to work as hard as I can and worry about the things that are in my control," he said. "The only things I can control are how hard I compete and how hard I work. I'm just going to showcase my skills, and hopefully everything works out the way it's supposed to."
D'Anton will spend draft day the same way most NFL hopefuls do — sitting by the phone. However, the biggest influence on his football life won't be there to celebrate if and when that phone rings.
"I know where I'm going to be," said Coach Lynn. "I'm going to be in Florham Park. He'll probably be home with his friends and family and at least get the chance to do something on draft day if he's blessed and fortunate. We'll see."