All it took was a cursory glance for Davonte Sapp-Lynch to recognize some of the names on the Spokane Shock’s budding 2021 roster, a list that includes several commodities that were groomed in the Southeastern, Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences.
Some, like Sapp-Lynch, were either given NFL tryouts or had brief stays before taking the winding road to the Indoor Football League.
Sapp-Lynch, a 5-foot-8 running back who recently signed with the Shock, didn’t play a down of NCAA Division I football.
But the former University of New Mexico Highlands and junior-college standout believes he’s just as talented as many of the Power Five products around the 15-team IFL, now the primary league for indoor football since the 2019 demise of the 32-year-old Arena Football League.
An older brother — former Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch — has aided Sapp-Lynch’s confidence.
“(Marshawn) thinks I am better than he was,” Sapp-Lynch said when referencing is physical, hard-running brother. “If I was three inches taller and his size, it’d be a whole different story.
“He is probably my biggest fan. A lot of big-brother-to-little-brother talks, is there when I need advice.”
Shock owner and ex-Seahawks defensive lineman Sam Adams and Shock coach Billy Back are also the fans of Sapp-Lynch, whose voice, appearance and mannerisms are similar to his 34-year-old brother.
He wears the same No. 24 as the five-time Pro Bowler and 2013 Super Bowl winner known for his famous “Beast Mode” moniker.
Sapp-Lynch rushed for 541 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2019 for the IFL’s Nebraska Danger before signing with an expansion team co-owned by Lynch, the Oakland Panthers.
The coronavirus pandemic halted Oakland’s inaugural season, and due to anticipated financial losses the team announced it wouldn’t play until 2022.
Adams and Back reached out immediately, even though the Shock roster has a running-back room that includes Blake Sims, a former starting quarterback at Alabama.
“He’s fast and physical, puts his foot into the ground and plays behind his pads,” Adams said of Sapp-Lynch. “He’s also dangerous out of the backfield and is a problem in space. In this game, if you create space it’s problem for defenses.”
Back, who left a successful Carolina Cobras franchise in 2019 to join the reborn Shock, likes everything about Sapp-Lynch.
“He’s the real deal, all-around,” Back said of Sapp-Lynch’s character and ability.
It’s been a circuitous journey for the 27-year-old All-IFL talent.
Sapp-Lynch attended multiple high schools in California’s Bay Area but first attended class in New York as a freshman during the 2007-2008 school year after Marshawn Lynch was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. They lived together.
After graduating from Sheldon High School in 2011, Lynch went on to play two seasons at nearby Contra Costa Junior College, where he was all-conference selection after rushing for nearly 1,500 yards as a sophomore.
Several small Division I schools showed interest in Sapp-Lynch, he said, but he did not academically qualify.
Instead of redshirting at a school like Football Championship Subdivision member Townsend or Sacramento State until he made adequate progress, he wanted to play immediately at the NCAA Division II level.
“I wasn’t patient, and I knew that wherever I played it would work out in the end,” Lynch said.
Sapp-Lynch rushed for rushed for a team-high 777 yards and three touchdowns as a junior at New Mexico Highlands in 2015 and didn’t pursue a senior season.
He went on to have tryouts with the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers before playing professionally in Germany. Last year was his rookie IFL season.
“I definitely have fun playing indoor,” Sapp-Lynch said. “I’m just trying to work my way up the ladder to get back to outdoor football, whether it be Canada, XFL or the CFL.
“There’s some great players on the (Shock’s) roster, which makes things exciting. There’s going to be a lot of hype.”
Sapp-Lynch has spent plenty of time Seattle but has never been east of the Cascade Mountains.
He’s been doing his research, though.
“I heard there is great support for the Shock,” Sapp-Lynch said of the franchise that won two af2 championships and an AFL title before changing its brand to the Spokane Empire and ceasing operations in 2017 under former ownership.
Marshawn attended his brother’s IFL games in 2019 and is expected to be in Spokane in the spring of 2021 to watch the Shock — if the Spokane Arena allows fans depending on the state’s COVID-19 reopening phase in March.
“I am looking forward to getting in the (gondola) and going over the Spokane River and the seeing city,” Lynch said.