Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Strong remembers his roots

Mack Strong's decision to give up soccer has paid dividends for the Seahawks.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Kirby Arnold Everett Herald

The timid 13-year-old played soccer, not football, when he enrolled at the Brookstone School in Columbus, Ga.

That’s before Chico Lynch changed his life.

It was August, 1985, and Lynch was a newly hired coach trying to establish something that the small private school never had – success in its football program.

Lynch had decided to call all the incoming freshman boys at the school, hoping to get them to play for him. Among those on his list was the young soccer player, and after hearing Lynch’s spiel, the kid said yes.

“We talked him into coming out and giving it a try,” Lynch said. “And I guess history tells the story.”

Mack Strong never played soccer again.

Instead, he helped lead Brookstone to the Georgia Class A state championship game in 1987, then played four successful years at the University of Georgia before a 13-year NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks.

Today, Strong will start at fullback against the Carolina Panthers in the game that will send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl if they win.

He can’t thank his old high school coach enough for the opportunity.

Chico Lynch not only turned a timid soccer player into a fundamentally sound football star, but also into a man who faces his challenges without fear and knows the meaning of responsibility, respect and professionalism.

Strong credits his parents – father Mack Sr. and mother Rose – with instilling the core values that he lives by.

“But like many young men who are away from home much of the day, it’s the coaches and teachers who have a profound impact on your life,” Strong said. “Coach Lynch taught me persistence, perseverance and toughness. I felt like I was a weakling my freshman year of high school, but by the time I left I was a tough man and I was prepared for any challenge, not just in football but in whatever life has to offer.”

Without Lynch, Strong wouldn’t have tried football as a freshman.

Without Lynch, Strong wouldn’t have come back to the game after deciding to quit after one season.

Without Lynch, who knows where the Seahawks would be now?

Strong is the blocking specialist who helped spring Shaun Alexander to the NFL rushing title this season. Strong is the Seahawk who knows better than all the others the frustration of losing seasons and failed expectations. He’s the only Seahawk who has battled through 13 unfulfilled seasons to reach this point, one victory from the Super Bowl, by playing every down with the team-first, me-second approach that he learned from his old high school coach.

“I’ve had coaches through my whole career who’ve been very influential in my life,” Strong said. “But there’s been no coach in my football life overall who has inspired me more than Coach Lynch. His work ethic, his attitude, his love for the game.

“I feel like everything I love about football, I learned from him. The fundamentals, being a part of a team, being passionate about what you’re doing, being intense.”

Without his old high school coach, this whole Super Bowl opportunity would never happen if Lynch hadn’t called him in the first place, or talked him out of quitting after one season.

“He believed in me when I did not believe in myself early on, and I feel like without him, I wouldn’t have continued to play football,” Strong said.

It wasn’t because Strong didn’t experience success his first time on the field.

“After we got him to go out for football, then we had to figure out how to use him,” Lynch said. “So we decided to put Mack in just for kickoff returns, and the first one he returned 93 yards for a touchdown. A week or so later, we decided to use him on a punt return, and he ran it 55 yards for a touchdown.

“About then, we were thinking we just might have something here.”

Still, Strong didn’t feel at-ease with football. He wasn’t comfortable with the intricacies of the game, and especially with Lynch’s demanding rules. And he didn’t enjoy getting hit.

“It was a little different than what he’d been accustomed to,” Lynch said.

The coach talked him into coming back another year and history, as he says, tells the story.

Strong rushed for 4,414 yards and scored 83 touchdowns in four seasons at Brookstone, and he nearly won the Georgia Class A state championship his junior season. All that prevented it was a player who later became his teammate at Georgia, Garrison Hearst.

Strong had scored a touchdown to put Brookstone ahead 14-13 late in the game, but Hearst broke a long punt return and Lincolnton scored in the final two minutes to win 19-14.

“Of all the games that I’ve played over the years, that one sticks out in my mind because we were playing for it all,” Strong said. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to win a championship this year so I can finally erase 1987 from my memory.”

Truly, though, Strong doesn’t want to forget that season, or any during his high school years.

He learned from Lynch that persistence will pay off eventually, and he experienced that from the moment the 1993 NFL Draft came and went with no team selecting him. The Seahawks signed Strong as a free agent, and he spent a year-and-a-half with the Hawks before he played a down.

“I wasn’t drafted and wasn’t playing a whole lot when I first got here,” Strong said. “It seems like ever since my fourth or fifth year here they’ve been trying to get rid of me, but I’ve had the mindset that I’m not going to worry about things I have no control over. I’m going to keep pressing forward and keep giving my best.”

Today, while Strong delivers his blocks and gets an occasional carry, the coach who made it all possible with sit back in his Georgia home and watch proudly.

Mack Strong can’t thank him enough.

“He took me under his wing and encouraged me and he saw a lot of potential in me when I didn’t,” Strong said. “He helped me avoid making a huge mistake.”