The Seahawks' new quarterback has had to wait for his opportunities to lead. But when they've come, he has made the most of them.
Matt Flynn was too good to spend his career as a backup quarterback.
That’s what the coach thought anyway.
Now, this was way before the Seahawks decided to give Flynn a crack at their quarterback’s job. This was before Flynn was recruited to Louisiana State by Nick Saban and spent four years waiting for his turn to start for the Tigers.
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This story begins about 11 years ago down in Tyler, Texas, which is situated about halfway between Dallas and the Louisiana border. Flynn was a skinny little high-school sophomore who might have weighed 165 pounds, and certainly not more than that. He was a promising athlete in a part of the country where high-school football has been compared to religion — which is heretical, of course. At least it is to those who would say the sport is more important than that.
But now we’re getting sidetracked from the main thread of this story, which will tell you just about everything you need to know regarding Flynn and the tortoise-like determination that has carried him all the way to the brink of an NFL starting job.
As a freshman at Robert E. Lee High School, Flynn had started at quarterback for the Red Raiders’ JV football team. But the next year on varsity, he was beat out for the position by someone in his class.
“The other kid was a little more athletic,” said Dow Wynn, Lee’s passing-game coordinator.
That left Flynn potentially on a road to nowhere on the depth chart, so Wynn met with Flynn after the season and assured him that they’d find a spot for him. He was too good to spend the next two years as the backup.
Flynn agreed. He wasn’t going to be the backup quarterback. He was going to come back and earn that starting job the next season.
“I remember it very distinctly,” said Alvin Flynn, Matt’s father. “It’s one of those, I guess for want of a better term, a character-builder. Matt felt like, ‘I’m a quarterback and I’m going to be a quarterback.’ “
That approach became the blueprint for how Flynn has built his career. In the event of a roadblock, he didn’t look for an alternate route so much as he put his head down and started working.
In 10th grade, that meant private workouts with a trainer, arriving at school before 7 a.m. some days to work on his speed. When spring came, Flynn did just what he said he would: He won that starting quarterback job, and held it for two years.
“I could say his most valuable trait was his confidence in himself,” Wynn said.
Flynn turned out to be the undisputed leader on a team that had some kind of talent. Wynn cites 11 Division I football scholarship signees there for Flynn’s senior year. Lee reached the state semifinals that season, Flynn playing despite a broken bone in the top of his foot suffered in the first postseason game.
What about the other quarterback from Flynn’s sophomore season? Well, Ty Wright moved to receiver as a junior and went on to a college baseball career at Oklahoma State. He plays for the Cubs now, an outfielder who has advanced as high as Class AAA, and on Saturday he called from spring training with a ringing endorsement for Seattle’s new quarterback.
“You guys got a good one in Matt,” Wright said.
Flynn is older now, a good deal heavier at 227 pounds and now significantly richer after signing a three-year contract with the Seahawks that could pay him as much as $26 million. But for all the hope and expectation that has been bundled into his acquisition, Flynn has been a starting quarterback for exactly one of the previous nine seasons he has played football. At the age of 26, he has started just 16 games since high school, going 13-3 in those games.
He redshirted at LSU, then spent three years behind JaMarcus Russell on the Tigers’ depth chart before becoming the starter his senior season. And after he was chosen in the last round of the 2008 draft, he spent four years behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
It took more than patience for Flynn to reach this point because through it all, he has kept working and improving. And when getting opportunities, he has spun them into gold.
He quarterbacked LSU to an 11-2 record and won the national championship. And in the two games he started for Green Bay, he threw for 731 yards and nine touchdowns and had the NFL wondering whether the second-best quarterback on the Packers’ roster was better than half the league’s starters.
“He’s earned the position he’s in,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “In my opinion, he’s ready to be an NFL starter.”
McCarthy said that in late February at the league’s scouting combine. Before Flynn became a free agent. Before the Seahawks and Dolphins came calling. Before McCarthy spoke to Seahawks general manager John Schneider and stumped for Flynn’s ability and readiness to lead a team.
It’s too soon to do anything more than guess how Flynn will fare in that role. Coach Pete Carroll hasn’t even declared Flynn the starting quarterback.
And while Flynn’s history won’t necessarily illustrate his future as the Seahawks’ quarterback, it’s pretty compelling proof of the approach he’s going to take to this opportunity.
Easy is a way out, not a path Flynn has ever followed. That was true in college, when he stayed at LSU despite being behind Russell on the depth chart. Flynn took over after Russell left for the NFL. The senior played through a high ankle sprain and a separated shoulder and stayed in the Tigers’ pocket through the BCS Championship Game, for which he named was the offensive MVP.
It was true in the NFL, when Flynn was a seventh-round pick in 2008 — the 12th quarterback chosen in that draft and the second one picked by Green Bay.
In the second round, the Packers chose Brian Brohm out of Louisville. He was supposed to back up Rodgers as Green Bay began life after Brett Favre. But when the season opened, it was Flynn — not Brohm — who was Rodgers’ backup.
You can go back 11 years and find Flynn as a high-school sophomore determined to not just to stay at quarterback, but become the starter.
“You just have to understand his personality,” says his father, who played quarterback at Baylor. “Very resolute. Very determined. … I guess he gets it from his momma.”
“Matt, he’ll just work until he’s got it,” said Mike Owens, Flynn’s head coach at Lee High School. “His whole goal is, ‘I’m going to be better tomorrow than what I am today.’ That’s just the way he is. Always has been.”
Always will be, too, said Owens. Flynn may be more than a month away from his first minicamp as a Seahawk and almost half a year from his first regular-season game, but even as he’s back in Baton Rouge, La., there’s one thing Seattle can be certain of.
“Wherever he is, he’s working out,” Owens said.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dannyoneil.