Thursday at Eastern High School, the 30th annual D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association football championship will be played between Dunbar and Eastern. This Turkey Bowl features two of the city's top senior running backs in the Crimson Tide's James Lynch and Eastern's Lawrence Wade. In the first of two stories, The Post today profiles Lynch.
The ritual will be repeated a final time tonight. Dunbar senior running back James Lynch will invite friends and teammates Darrell Dowery, Ronald Mitchell and William Hibbler to spend the night at the two-story row house on the corner of Florida Avenue and 13th Street Northeast. Lynch's mother, Brenda, will make a dinner of fried chicken, greens, and macaroni and cheese. The players will talk about Dunbar's next game, discuss plans for the future and maybe play some video games.
This is how Lynch, the team leader for No. 16 Dunbar (8-3-1), has prepared for most of the games in his high school football career, which will end Thursday when the Crimson Tide plays at No. 19 Eastern (8-3) in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title game. Kickoff for the 30th annual Turkey Bowl is 11 a.m.
Before they go to sleep tonight, the boys will talk themselves through the plays they hope to execute to perfection Thursday.
"He's like a coach," said Mitchell, a junior wide receiver, of Lynch. "When we go over to his house, he tells us about the other team and how to handle different situations. We relax, hang out and get ready to play the game."
This will be the second consecutive Turkey Bowl for Lynch. In last year's game, the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder with breakaway speed scored the winning touchdown in overtime to lift Dunbar over Theodore Roosevelt, 28-20. Thursday, Lynch will square off against the DCIAA's other dominant running back, Eastern's Lawrence Wade.
Lynch is, without a doubt, Dunbar's best player and its emotional leader. That was never more evident than late in the fourth quarter of the DCIAA semifinal between Dunbar and H.D. Woodson. With the Crimson Tide clinging to a 20-12 lead, the team needed some insurance to ensure itself a return trip to the championship game.
Dunbar Coach Craig Jefferies could see his players were beat up, that they were tiring. He wanted to light a fire under his staggering team, so he set off Lynch.
Between plays, Jefferies, pacing the sideline, overheard one of the H.D. Woodson players tell a teammate, "Ain't nothing to number five, he's soft." Jefferies heard that and instantly knew his next course of action. He walked onto the field, toward his team's huddle, and he said, "Hey, James, did you hear what number 50 just said about you? He called you 'soft.' You're not going to let him say that, are you?"
"I wanted to get James mad," Jefferies explained. "When he's mad, you can't stop him. He's talented, but sometimes that isn't brought out until he's mad. He steps it up to another level."
Lynch put his hands on his hips, shot a long, hard stare in No. 50's direction and let out a mocking laugh. On the next play, Lynch broke a 25-yard run up the middle, carrying the ball--and three defensive linemen with it--into Woodson territory. Two minutes later, Lynch gave Dunbar a 26-12 lead, bowling his way into the end zone with 5 minutes 46 seconds remaining. Lynch finished with 207 yards rushing and two touchdowns in Dunbar's 28-20 win.
"I knew if I kept my chin up, no one could stop me," said Lynch, who agrees that he plays better when he's angry. In addition to shots at his pride, the other thing that gets Lynch mad is losing. "I really hate to lose," he said.
Jefferies's ploy to get Lynch angry worked, but his anger didn't last long. Moments later, Lynch, who made several key tackles on defense (from his position at linebacker), was celebrating the victory on the field with his teammates, friends and family. He saved the biggest hug for his mom, Brenda.
Lynch, who has gained more than 2,400 yards and scored 28 touchdowns over the past two seasons at Dunbar, has orally committed to play for Maryland next season because he wanted to stay close to home, and because they promised to let him play the position he prefers. Lynch wants to play fullback in college. Many schools, such as Miami, Michigan, Nebraska and Missouri, recruited him as a linebacker.
Lynch, who also plays outfield for the baseball team and puts the shot for the track and field team, will be the first person in his family to attend college.
"I always tell him to aim high. If he does that, he can do anything," Brenda Lynch said. "He's going to make me proud."
Mrs. Lynch, who raised James and his 18-year-old brother, Wilson Whitaker, in the house on the corner of Florida and 13th, knows James has made some tough choices. But she knows her son's character, and is as proud of it as any of Lynch's feats on the football field. "He never hangs out with the boys," said Mrs. Lynch, who attended all of her son's games this season. "It would be so easy for him to choose the streets, but he chose the hard road, the right road."
Mrs. Lynch, pointing to the mantle in her living room where dozens of pictures of James are neatly arranged, says the influence of James's coaches--Jefferies and his Elliott Junior High coach Gregory Fuller (now coach at H.D. Woodson)--helped her raise her son.
The coaches, especially Jefferies, have helped Lynch navigate the college selection process.
"I'm excited about playing [at Maryland]. I know it's going to be hard at first. It's going to be like starting all over again. I'll be going from a star at Dunbar to nothing at Maryland. But I'm up for the challenge."
Said Jefferies: "Things are happening the way I told James they would if he continued to work hard. Getting the opportunity to go to college on a Division I scholarship is the best thing football did for James."
The Turkey Bowl
What: The D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association football championship game.
Who: No. 16 Dunbar (8-3-1) vs. No. 19 Eastern (8-3).
When: Thursday, 11 a.m.
Where: Eastern High, 17th & East Capitol streets NE.
Tickets: $7 general admission, $5 students (must have ID), $5 senior citizens.
Ht./Wt.: 6-1/240 pounds.
Positions: Running back/linebacker.
College: Maryland (oral commitment).
Personal: Also plays outfield on Dunbar's baseball team and puts the shot on track team. ... Favorite class is math. ... Enjoys lifting weights (benches more than 300 pounds and squats 550).
Stats: 1,555 yards and 20 touchdowns on 159 carries in the regular season; 207 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in DCIAA semifinal.
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