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April 30, 2010

2009 Season - Former football captain enjoying Europe

Billy Lynch (Loyola Academy, Chicago, Ill.) doesn’t know what it is like to back away from a challenge. Playing in the rough and tumble world of college football for four years at Augustana, Lynch never worried about his stature (or lack of it). Despite standing just 5’ 8” and weighing only 170 pounds, Lynch carved quite a niche for himself during a four year span with the Vikings that went from 2005 through 2008.

A consummate warrior, Lynch was a two year starter at cornerback for head coach Jim Barnes’ club and he served as team captain during his senior year. His reputation was of a hard-nosed gamer who never missed a practice and played at his absolute best during big games.

He led Augustana in tackles during his junior year (2007) with 64 as he accumulated 48 solos and 16 assists. In his senior season of 2008 he was second in tackles with 70 (51 solo and 19 assists). This coming from a position (cornerback) that does not always lend itself to high statistical totals and a physical frame that usually left him as the smallest player on the field.

Accepting, and overcoming, a challenge is part of Lynch’s makeup. It is part of his essence for being, if you will, and he is now embarking on another one.

Fueled by conversations from former teammate Eric Smith (Flanagan HS, Flanagan, Ill.), Lynch is currently trying to make a name for himself on the European football circuit. He is a member of the Cottbus Crayfish in Cottbus, Germany. To hear Lynch, a first team all-conference defensive back in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin in 2008, tell it, it was some late night phone calls from Smith which prompted him to try continue his love and desire to play football.

“Eric would call us, sometimes very late in the evening, and would always have a great story to tell about his experiences in Germany,” said Lynch about Smith, a fullback turned defensive end who played in the spring and summer of 2009 with the Franken (Germany) Knights. “As I listened to his experience about traveling throughout Europe and playing competitive football, I knew instantly that it was something I was interested in doing.”

Despite his success at Augustana, where he was a member of two conference championship teams and won several individual honors – like all-conference and being elected team captain – he had the feeling that he was not quite ready to hang up the shoulder pads and helmet.

Barnes is not surprised by Lynch’s desire to continue competing. “People who knew Billy told me, when I was recruiting him, that someday he would be a leader, if not captain, for Augustana,” said Barnes, who has fashioned a record of 73-30 in 10 years as the Augustana head coach. “Information like that is hard to accurately predict, especially with Billy because he wasn’t very big. However, everybody raved about his heart and his fight and boy, were they right. He was a great competitor and was exactly what we wanted both on the field and battle and off the field in leadership.”

“I felt like I could still play football at a competitive level if I devoted my time to training and preparing myself mentally and physically for another season,” said Lynch who graduated in 2009 with a degree in history. “The outstanding cultural and athletic experience that Eric had last spring was what really fueled this desire.”

From that genesis came the arduous task of finding out how to get in the pipeline of European football. Smith helped Lynch get connected with a website called Europlayers.com, which is essentially a place where prospective players can create profiles of themselves. The prospective players and the teams both use the website for information and eventually Lynch signed with the Cottbus Crayfish.

Barnes feels a certain kinship with Lynch because of a similarity in background and roots. “Coming from similar backgrounds of growing up in Chicago with a ‘blue-collar” work ethic and Catholic roots, it is rewarding for me to see Billy move on and get this global experience involving the game of American football,” remarked Barnes, who has taken teams to Italy, the Czech Republic, Austria and will be heading up a tour of Switzerland and Austria this summer. “We want to expose all our student-athletes to the ‘possibilities” in the world and our work in taking teams overseas to compete has motivated some young men to expand their lives.”

Lynch arrived in Cottbus on April 14th, even though his “official” contract runs from May through September. The Crayfish play a 10-game schedule in a six-team division and all the games are played in Germany. The opponents are teams located in Frankfurt, Leipzip, Tollense, Berlin and Potsdam.

Already he has experienced the real-life struggles of being a professional athlete. A three day “minicamp” in Murcia, Spain had to be cancelled due to the higher-than-expected price of airline tickets. Instead, the event was held closer to “home” in Strausberg, Germany.

Lynch has wasted no time getting acclimated to his surroundings. He has explored the city of Cottbus, population 100,000, and has plans in the works to visit Berlin in the near future. He has enjoyed a warm welcome since his arrival in Cottbus, even finding a roommate in the form of former rival Dan Souder, who played collegiately at Illinois Wesleyan. The fact that Lynch’s Vikings beat Souder’s Titans three out of four times that the two played against one another in college gives him bragging rights in the bunkhouse.

“We have been treated extremely well,” said Lynch. “I am liking the family-style meals and the German cuisine and my teammates have been tremendous. Although the language barrier can be difficult at times, I have noticed the theme of “team first” and “family” that was the make-up of what we were about at Augustana.”

Lynch, who was always a leader, considers himself to be almost like a ‘player-coach’ for his new team. He helped coach at Augustana this past fall and he finds himself falling back on what he learned as a member of Barnes’ staff and what he picked up from defensive coordinator Rob Cushman.

“Like many others we have graduated,” said Barnes. “Billy is destined to be a great leader and servant in his community. The people of Germany will benefit and then we will welcome him back home to gain so much from his experience and more so from his character.”

“My experience this past fall working coaches Barnes and Cushman has really helped,” remarked Lynch. “It is coming full circle as I have had the opportunity to coach the defensive backs and Dan (his roommate) and I do a lot together in practice preparation, film breakdown, teaching and instruction and drill collaboration.”

He realizes that the long years of playing American football has been an invaluable resource. The Americans might be more athletic and proficient at the game but it hasn’t stopped him from learning every day.

“I am constantly picking up new things,” he said. “One thing that I have tried to stress is to play with an energy and passion for the game. Hopefully my new teammates will be able to feed off the way I play.”

Lynch is expanding his own horizons as he takes advantage of the opportunity to prolong his playing career. He is currently collaborating with the team’s president to help teach English to some members of the I.T. company that he works for. Besides supplementing his income, it also provides Lynch with the unique experience of teaching his native language to men and women who haven’t been exposed to it.

As always, Billy Lynch is ready, and willing to accept a challenge.