ATHENS -- Someday, if Arthur Lynch ends up the honorable Sen. Arthur Lynch, the start of his political career can be traced to the moment he figured out what Mike Bobo was saying.
And someday, if Lynch ends up in the NFL, the turning point of his football career can be traced to the night he and Mark Richt took a ride to Dairy Queen.
Such is the story of Lynch, the outgoing and ambitious Massachusetts product who plays his final home game Saturday. Georgia is losing an all-conference caliber tight end. But the country might be gaining a politician who reaches across the aisle.
The only question is whether he’ll run in Georgia or Massachusetts.
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“It’ll be interesting,” Lynch said, mulling it over. “If I would have scored the touchdown against Alabama, I would’ve run for governor here in three years and would’ve won.”
Five years ago, Lynch had no concept of the Deep South. He was raised in Dartmouth, Mass., an hour from Boston. He still has the accent to show it.
His mother and sister both went to Boston College, so when Lynch emerged as a college football prospect, the assumption was Lynch would go there, too. He even committed to Boston College. But when the recruiting websites began ranking him highly, Lynch was intrigued by the idea of going south. He wanted the challenge, both in football and in life.
“The preconceived notion I had of the South was the complete opposite of the North,” Lynch said. “But that was the biggest part of my growth as a person. Indulging every part of the Southern culture and really kind of expanding out of my comfort zone. Because I was definitely out of my comfort zone for a solid year-and-a-half here.”
One of the early obstacles was understanding Bobo, the offensive coordinator and native of south Georgia.
“He thought I was from a different planet when I tried to talk to him and coach him,” Bobo said, laughing.
Football was not quite the refuge at first that Lynch needed. He played in 11 games as a freshman in 2009, then redshirted the next year. He was discouraged about his playing time and was leaning toward transferring.
That’s when his head coach drove him to Dairy Queen.
“I think we had a chili cheese dog. I think that’s what I had, at least,” Richt said. “I had to convince him everything’s gonna be OK and it’s gonna be worth it in the end. And now I know he’s so thankful he stuck it out and didn’t go when he was thinking of going.”
Lynch has been the starter the past two seasons and this year was a preseason first-team All-SEC pick. He accepted an invitation this week to the Senior Bowl, the most prestigious college all-star game. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper projects him as a third- to sixth-round pick.
But football might only be a warmup for Lynch’s political career. It shouldn’t be a surprise for someone from Massachusetts, where politics can be a sport. But Lynch takes an active interest, breaking down the 2012 election with reporters and tweeting out support for gay marriage.
“If you love someone and want to get married, by all means go do it,” he said. “Human rights are kind of a big deal to me. That’s what this country was founded on, was for people to enjoy their individual liberties and individual freedoms on their own accord without people passing judgment or scrutinizing them or prosecuting them legally.”
Pro-gay marriage might be a minority viewpoint in Georgia. But after five years here, Lynch fits in, from all accounts.
“I think he would call the South his second home now,” Bobo said. “Because he’s a genuine person. No matter where he’s from, he’s a genuine guy. He loves his teammates, and they love him because of how genuine he is, and I think that’s why he’s fit in.”
Chris Conley, a junior receiver and member of various student-athlete committees, often turns to Lynch when it comes to non-football matters. The two have had long talks about whether athletes should be paid and the meaning of being a student-athlete.
“Arthur is definitely a cerebral guy, and that’s apparent when you sit down and talk with him for five minutes,” Conley said. “That’s why I think most people believe he’s gonna be in politics one day, because he definitely has the face and voice for it, and the capacity to thrash out some of those ideals and philosophies.”
It has been the ability to get along with people in two worlds -- the Northeast and the Deep South -- that has empowered Lynch to consider politics. He looks with disgust at all the partisanship and division in the current climate and thinks he knows the problem.
“The underlying quality that people in Washington lack is the ability to adapt to different regions of the country,” Lynch said. “That’s one thing that made me catch interest in (politics), is that I understood maybe why there are Republicans and Democrats and why certain people have certain views. And it’s not because one side is better than the other. But I think it’s just because of the way you grew up, what you were accustomed to.
“To really understand bipartisanship, you really have to understand where people come from. And a lot of people try to hold on to these beliefs and not change. I think I’ve become very open to both sides, and that’s really helped me learn about myself. That’s an underlying quality that you need if you want to go into public service.”
And it all started with the decision to move 1,100 miles away, from a blue state to a red state.
“Football’s been great, obviously. I’ve met people I would never get to meet otherwise,” Lynch said. “But just from the standpoint of growing as an individual, coming down here and taking that risk was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”