In the community of Town Creek, Alabama, football is more than an activity. It’s a way of life. One might go so far as to say that learning to play the game came before taking your first steps.
It was an activity not limited to one particular season. Instead, for young men growing up in the area, it was played seven days a week, 365 days a year. Once they come of age, their skills are refined at the local high school, Hazelwood. Names like Antonio Langham, the Goode family, Chris Hood, Montoya Madden and Tarrant Lynch are just a few of its most distinguished alumni.
However, for many in that small community and across Crimson Tide nation, Lynch’s star would burn the brightest.
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After running for 165 yards, four touchdowns, and two two-point conversions in a 75-0 victory over Georgiana in the 1989 state championship game, Lynch found himself being pursued by nearly every major school in the country. According to the “Goode” rule, however, only one team was allowed to recruit athletes from that surrounding area. That was the University of Alabama.
“I think what veered a lot of schools away from athletes that went to Hazelwood, Courtland and Colbert County was they thought Alabama had ‘locks’ on them because of all the Goodes that went to ‘Bama,” Lynch said.
With this in mind, he still entertained an offer from Auburn, the team he loved growing up. Much to their dismay, Lynch would choose the destination more common for players of the region. This came after a visit to Tuscaloosa. The Tide quite literally turned him. Its proud traditions and sense of familiarity caused him to spurn his once-favorite team.
“I think it was the Alabama tradition that made me wanna play for UA. I think it was once I made my visit there, it felt like home. I knew a lot of guys down there like Clyde and Pierre [Goode] and all their brothers. I knew them and Antonio [Langham] was going down as well. It just felt like home,” Lynch said.
Not only did his choice lead him to a tradition-rich school, but it provided him with a unique opportunity to play for a legendary coach, Gene Stallings. The former Bear Bryant disciple was just beginning his tenure when Lynch arrived. Although he was the head coach, Stallings was much more to Lynch and his teammates.
“He knew how to talk to you, more like a father figure out there. He took everything seriously. He was a great guy. He motivated you. If he was not getting 100 percent, then he wasn’t going to play you,” Lynch said.
That went beyond the football field. Coach Stallings invested in Lynch and all of his teammates. There was always the push to be the best on the field, in the classroom and in life. If something ever seemed off, Coach Stallings would make it a point to dig deeper. It was more than winning titles and accolades. To Stallings, it was about pouring life into these young men.
“He pushed you. He knew if you were slacking, even in the classroom or at home. He would always ask, you know, if something was going on. He was a caring guy,” Lynch said.
Coincidentally, Lynch believed his finest moment as a member of the Crimson Tide came during his senior season, because of Gene Stallings.
On a Friday before heading to Knoxville to play rival Tennessee, there was a misunderstanding on Lynch’s part as to their time of departure. He thought the plane was going to leave at 11:30 a.m., but instead the flight left at 11. Lynch missed the flight. He quickly discovered this upon his arrival at the airport and felt horrible. Luckily, some of the assistant coaches returned from recruiting trips and he was able to secure a ride with them. They arrived in Knoxville at 10:30 p.m. that night.
That next morning, a feeling of dread overcame him as he went to the scheduled team meeting for breakfast. Stallings remained silent throughout the meal. No words were spoken between the two.
However, Lynch felt his coach’s gaze locked onto him as he took each bite. Although Lynch was quite the large, muscular player, Stallings’ stare reduced him to feeling an inch tall. Deciding he could avoid his impending lashing no longer, Lynch walked the green mile over to Gene’s table. He had to make things right.
“I just got up, went over there and sat down. I told him that I came to apologize for everything. Man, he ripped me a new one. That told me right there that I had to make up for everything. So, I went on to have one of my best games ever,” Lynch said.
He made good on his claim throughout the contest by delivering punishing blocks and much-needed yards during critical moments. Anyone that had the misfortune of venturing into his path that day quickly regretted it. This helped fellow teammate Sherman Williams post a total of 146 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Due to his Coach Stallings-inspired performance, Lynch and the Crimson Tide defeated a Peyton Manning-led Volunteers team in a 17-13 slugfest.
Lynch’s time with the University of Alabama was remarkable. The former running-back-turned-fullback gained 859 yards rushing with five touchdowns, as well as 518 receiving yards and two scores.
He had an unmatched grit and toughness that inspired others. In his first season, during a game against Vanderbilt, he tore his ACL but continued to play. No amount of pain would stop him. He was an inspiring jack-of-all trades at his position. Whatever the Crimson Tide needed at that moment, Lynch provided with a great fire and tenacity.
He was masterful in the most critical games, especially against Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee. His effort also helped lead the team to three straight SEC Western Division titles, the 1992 SEC Championship, the 1992 national championship and a 1995 Citrus Bowl victory over Eddie George and the Ohio State Buckeyes. He was a part of one of the winningest classes in school history.
Despite his accomplishments with Alabama, Lynch went undrafted in the 1995 NFL Draft. This was very disappointing after having such a great collegiate career and posting what he felt was a commendable NFL Combine performance. However, he was granted an opportunity as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins. Although undrafted, he was in a great position not only to make the team but also be a significant contributor. This was due to the fact that the Dolphins were in desperate need of someone to fill a depleted roster spot at his position. Another perceivable advantage was the chance to be coached by another former Alabama legend, Tony Nathan. However, Lynch would gain no favors from the former Tide star, who was the Dolphins’ running backs coach under Don Shula.
“He was a cool guy, but he had a job to do. So, there wasn’t any favoritism. I understood that and definitely didn’t want anything handed to me. As a matter of fact, we never really talked Alabama football. He taught me some of the ins and outs of what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. At the end of the day, I had a job to do,” Lynch said of Nathan.
Lynch’s new NFL journey would unfortunately come to an abrupt close due to breaking his foot while at home during an off period. He suffered the injury when playing basketball as a means to stay in shape. He tried to return to the Dolphins, but was released shortly before the start of preseason.
However, this departure from his NFL dreams would mark the beginning to the next chapter of his life. His entire world was about to be turned upside down, because shortly thereafter, Lynch received the horrifying news that his mother had cancer.
Suddenly, football was an afterthought. The only thing that mattered was getting his mother well. Tragically, in 1996, his mother passed away. The once proud, strong woman, who often times was both mother and father to Lynch and his siblings, was called home to glory. She was the source of strength that many in his family leaned on. Although she was in a better place, free from the confines of cancer, it was still tough on Lynch and his family.
“It was rough. Real rough. Not just on me, but I had a younger brother and sister that it was rough on too. Any time you lose your mother, that’s rough,” Lynch said.
“You can’t take anything for granted. Your home is in Heaven. We are just here visiting. You have to make the best of it while you are here. Look out for your family. Raise your kids and do the best that you can. I try to make sure everyone is treated right. I will do anything I can to help anyone out.” — Tarrant Lynch
Rather than allowing his mother’s passing to defeat him, Lynch saw it as a call to action. Just as his mother before him, he had to be vessel of strength for his family. It was time for him to take the ball that was her legacy and guide those around him to victory.
“So, me being the eldest, I had to look out for them. I had a younger brother and sister that I had to make sure was all right, on top of being married and having my daughter,” Lynch stated.
Life lessons his mother had etched on the walls of his heart — “Family is everything” and “Always give 110%” — became his driving force. That, coupled with an unbreakable desire to provide a great life for his oldest daughter, kept him motivated. He didn’t waver. Just like he did countless times on the gridiron, he bowed up, lowered his head and drove relentlessly through the opposition life threw at him.
How was Lynch able to carry that load, along with receiving the healing he needed? His faith in and relationship with God served as his source of recovery.
“God definitely brought me through it. He made me a lot stronger. He says that He will never put more on your plate than you can carry [alone]. He brought me through it and made me a lot stronger, more focused, and wiser,” he said.
In addition, that season of life gave him a new perspective. He realized our time on earth is temporary. It must be cherished and utilized to serve others.
“You can’t take anything for granted. Your home is in Heaven. We are just here visiting. You have to make the best of it while you are here. Look out for your family. Raise your kids and do the best that you can. I try to make sure everyone is treated right. I will do anything I can to help anyone out,” Lynch says.
It’s a lesson in selflessness God is teaching through Lynch. In the face of trials and hardship, he looked to God and serving others as his source of healing. What if we all could put ourselves aside, during adversity or not, and truly pour life into others? It says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Lynch embodies this verse. He is allowing God to use him giving of his life, his time, his blessings and his love so that others may have life.
By doing so, Lynch is honoring the teachings of not only his mother, but those taught by Gene Stallings as well.
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