Flynn Finally Gets His Chance

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 7, 2007

Matt Flynn and Jordan Owens have been best friends since they first became football teammates in seventh grade, Flynn the quarterback, Owens the center. Their lives diverged once they left for college, but Owens and Flynn make it a point to reunite each summer, when they return home to Tyler, Tex.

Owens admired Flynn because he was always the same, even after he became one of the nation's best prep quarterbacks at Robert E. Lee High four years ago and headed to Louisiana State. This summer, though, Owens noticed Flynn had changed.

"For a brief moment, you could tell something was a little different about him," said Owens, whose football career didn't extend beyond high school. "There was a different kind of gleam in his eye. This was his chance, his opportunity to show everyone what he can do."

After four seasons of waiting to play for LSU -- including redshirting as a freshman -- Flynn has taken command of the Tigers' offense this season. Flynn possessed the talent to start for most any team, as he proved when he played in the 2005 Peach Bowl and earned MVP honors. But he was stuck behind JaMarcus Russell, the first pick in the NFL draft this April.

While he proved his ability in the Peach Bowl -- Russell missed the game with an injury -- Flynn earned his teammates' trust with his work ethic and unselfish attitude as Russell's understudy. Now, as No. 2 LSU prepares to host No. 9 Virginia Tech tomorrow, Flynn is intent on squeezing an entire career into his final season in Baton Rouge.

"Looking back at it, this isn't how I expected my career to go," Flynn said. "I've learned about myself and I've learned a lot of patience here, and I don't regret it for a second."

Flynn understood he would be competing with Russell when he signed in the same recruiting class. His confidence allowed him to believe it wouldn't matter -- bring on anyone, and Flynn though he would beat him out.

"He's the kind of guy, what most of us would consider adversity, he considers it a challenge," said Mike Owens, Jordan's father and the coach at Robert E. Lee. "He doesn't question the decision. He just works harder to do what he has to do."

As a freshman in high school, Flynn ran the 40-yard dash in 5.3 seconds. He was "not very big, not very fast, not very anything," Mike Owens said. Flynn and his family hired a speed coach, whom he worked with for an hour and a half after each practice. By the time he graduated, he ran the 40 in 4.5 seconds. He had decided any obstacle could be overcome with hard work.

"He didn't inherit much natural talent," Mike Owens said. "He just worked harder than any human being we've ever had here. He wasn't going to take no for answer."

But it quickly became apparent that no amount of work could overcome Russell, who weighed 270 pounds, had nimble feet and could throw the ball 60 yards from one knee. As sophomores, Russell passed Flynn.

For the first two years of his career, Flynn considered transferring, but never seriously. He loved LSU, and he couldn't envision himself anywhere else. As time passed, patience came more easily. He shared his disappointment with friends and family, but never his teammates.

Last season, Flynn understood he was at a crossroads. Russell, a junior, was perhaps the best quarterback in the nation. Flynn still trusted his own ability, but Russell was entrenched. If Russell decided to come back for his senior season, Flynn would have no choice but to consider another school.

Competition aside, Russell and Flynn had become close friends at LSU. At one point last season, Flynn took Russell aside. "When you find out, please let me know what you're going to do," Flynn told him.

Before LSU played in the Sugar Bowl last season, Russell called Flynn on his cellphone. He was going pro. In a matter of weeks, the team would be Flynn's.

"I'm not going to say relieved, but it was kind of a load off my shoulders," Flynn said. "I knew that I was going to have the opportunity to finally lead this team."

Throughout the spring, Flynn devoured film of new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's offense. At this summer's outset, Flynn rounded up LSU's receivers, sat them down in front of a whiteboard and diagrammed Crowton's schemes. He stayed in Baton Rouge nearly the whole summer, organizing team seven-on-seven passing drills. After the first week of preseason, the Tigers voted Flynn a team captain.

The honor came as no surprise to those who know Flynn. He played the final three games of his high school career with a torn tendon in his foot, wearing a special shoe and standing in the shotgun. He watches more film than anybody on the team, said LSU center Ryan Miller, Flynn's roommate. He used his time off the field to prepare for the moment he has now, to lead a top-ranked team on national television.

"A lot of stuff creeped in my head, and there were some times that were pretty tough," Flynn said. "But I grew up a lot. I felt like I didn't want to go anywhere else, and if I kept working hard, good things will happen."

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