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Oaktown Business: Marshawn Lynch
OAKLAND, CALIF. - You couldn't see Marshawn Lynch, but you could hear him coming.
It wasn't the usually reserved Seahawks running back suddenly spouting his mere presence, no.
It was the heavy humming of Lynch's white Lamborghini Aventador turning off of Oakland's 45th Street into Oakland Technical High School, creeping onto campus and coming to rest between the school's gymnasium and football field - the site of Lynch's eighth annual Fam 1st Family Football Camp.
Lynch's cousin - San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Josh Johnson - appeared first from behind the vehicle's tinted windows, lifting up the passenger-side door and stepping foot onto the pavement of the pair's alma mater. Lynch would emerge moments later from the driver's side, much to the delight of the Bay Area youth, their parents, and family members who had come out for the NFL superstar's free football clinic.
"Hey Marshawn, come out and play!" campers sporting black-and-green 'Beast Mode' branded t-shirts shouted in unison from Tech's 50-yard-line as Lynch sauntered out onto the field.
Was Lynch's Lamborghini-laden entrance a tad extravagant? Perhaps. But it did serve well as a reminder to the next generation on hand that hard work and commitment to your craft can pay off, even when you hail from one of Oakland's toughest neighborhoods.
It's just like a big old play day for me to get out here with these kids right now.
"If somebody would have told me (when I was younger) in the middle of the street playing tackle football on concrete that I would be able to have a football camp and sponsor 800 kids for free, I would have told them you're a damn liar," said Lynch, the former Tech Bulldog and California Golden Bear who has racked up 4,624 yards and 41 touchdowns rushing, three Pro Bowl honors, and a Super Bowl XLVIII championship in his four seasons with the Seahawks. "It's crazy."
Lynch's Fam 1st Family Foundation is aptly named. One look around Tech's football field on this day and that much becomes clear in an instant. Former coaches and teammates from high school, college, and the NFL help lead the day's events, with several tight-knit community and family members watching closely from the sideline and bleacher seats stationed just outside the high school's track.
The camp itself offers kids a chance to work with Lynch, Johnson, and other pro athletes on a personal level.
"I wanted to do something to give back to my community, as well as have fun - because I actually get out here and I get down with them," said Lynch. "It's just like a big old play day for me to get out here with these kids right now."
It's infinite to the things that sports can teach them.
Lynch's "play day" put an exclamation point on what was a jam-packed three days for his and Johnson's foundation, which looks to uplift, empower, and provide educational opportunities for underprivileged youth. The two-session camp - one for children ages 6-12 and the other catered toward ages 13-18 - followed a talent show (which Lynch MC'd) and bowling night held during the two days prior.
Family comes first, second, and third for Lynch, and he's found ways to use his platform to bring more than just football knowledge back to his hometown.
"It teaches them the simple things, basic instructions for life - listening, following directions," Lynch said of what he hopes his campers take away from their time at Tech. "It could teach them compassion. It could teach them discipline. It could teach them loyalty. It could teach them strength. It could teach them to overcome their fears, overcome their weaknesses, to build on their strengths and not make them just good, but make them great.
"It's infinite to the things that sports can teach them."
Ask Lynch which music he prefers more - that of Brooklyn-based rapper Jay-Z or Toronto-born tunesmith Drake, and he'll ad-lib Oakland Tech's own Mistah F.A.B. into the equation.
From the "OAKLAND" tattoo inked across his chest to the Bay Area beats he bumps in the Seahawks locker room, Lynch's roots reveal there's much more to the Seahawks 'Beast Mode' back than the Skittles celebrations you see on Sundays.
"He's always been committed to the kids, always been committed to Oakland," said former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, who served as Lynch's lead blocker the past three seasons and was spending his fourth year at Lynch's Fam 1st camp. "It's always been about the kids and his foundation."
When Robinson first met Lynch, he admits he didn't know what to expect. Everything Robinson knew about No. 24 he had learned from the media, which wasn't too friendly at times.
The pair's first meeting would come during a 2008 game between Lynch's Buffalo Bills and Robinson's 49ers.
"We crossed paths," said Robinson. "He was getting to the stadium and I was walking in from my warm-ups. That's how late he got to the stadium."
The two would exchange a head nod before Robinson's Niners got the best of Lynch's Bills, 10-3, in a game that saw Lynch rush for a season-high 134 yards. Little did Lynch and Robinson know they would be lining up in the same backfield two seasons later, leading what would turn into one of the NFL's top-ranked rushing attacks.
After learning of the 2010 trade that sent Lynch to Seattle in exchange for a 2011 fourth-round draft pick and conditional pick in 2012, the newly-minted Seahawk Robinson went to Seattle running back Justin Forsett - Lynch's roommate at Cal - to figure out who this kid coming into their position group really was.
"He said, 'Mike, if you want to laugh and joke, this is the guy,'" Robinson recalled of his conversation with Forsett. "When [Lynch] walked in the room, I'm like, 'What's up, man?' And the way he said hello back, the way he showed me so much respect, it really showed how humble he was.
These kids just have a special place in his heart.
"He really wasn't a guy that's all about himself. To see that coming from a guy named 'Beast Mode,' it's just refreshing. You don't see that much."
Despite what Seahawks fans may have seen with Lynch giving Robinson the cold shoulder onThe Real Rob Report, Robinson says the two are constantly in communication, brainstorming bigger and better ways to give back to their respective communities - Lynch's in Oakland and Robinson's in Richmond, Va. It's that selflessness which Lynch displays that has Robinson coming back to work with Lynch and his Oakland youth each summer.
"He's really opened himself up completely," Robinson said of Lynch's increased efforts in the community. "Just to see him sign autographs, just to see how personable he his with the kids. After a game you can't get him to say much, but you come in his surroundings and get him here at this Fam 1st camp, he'll probably answer any question you have for him.
"These kids just have a special place in his heart."
THE GENTLE GIANT
Former Seahawks running back and current Baltimore Raven Justin Forsett didn't hesitate when asked to name his favorite part of Lynch's Fam 1st football camp.
"He takes time and he'll pull a kid aside one-on-one," said Forsett, who backed up Lynch for three seasons at Cal before earning the starting job his senior year when Lynch was drafted by the Bills. "He could tell maybe by the way he's dressed, or his shoes, like, man, he's kind of struggling. When you see a kid come out here to a football camp with just regular tennis shoes on, he'll pull them aside, talk to them, encourage them, and give them a brand new pair of shoes.
"It's awesome, man, just to see that every year."
"He's a gentle giant, man," said Forsett. "He has a big heart for people and loves to give. You can see it with this event. He just has a heart to give back to his community and that's the kind of guy he is."
Lynch's consistency in production on the football field is out-shined only by his consistency to community. What you see is what you get when it comes to Lynch, says Forsett. Lynch is a leader, a trend-setter, and a difference maker, and Forsett says he's doing his best to "right the ship" in a society that has been historically marred by problems with violence and drugs.
"A lot of negativity comes out of this community, but there's a lot of good going in and coming out, too," Forsett said. "He's been a part of it. He's been an example, giving back to these kids, showing them that you can do the right things to make it out and be successful.
"You can start seeing it. This next generation there's been a change happening. Every year they get better and better. They're taking pride in where they come from."
COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY
Of all the places the Lieutenant Governor of California could have been on this particular Saturday, Gavin Newsom chose to be on the sideline at Oakland Tech supporting Lynch's latest endeavor.
The former Mayor of San Francisco and Bay Area native who graduated from the same high school (Redwood) as Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was running his young son Hunter through a few playful bag drills when asked what would bring the state's second-in-command out to an event like this.
"As any Seahawks fan knows, the difference between success and failure often times in life is that distinction between interested people and committed people," Newsom said. "Interested people find excuses. Committed people find ways of getting things done, and Marshawn has shown his commitment to this community wherever he's been and will continue to for years and years and years.
"As a guy that grew up in the Bay Area that's seen a lot of these athletes respectfully come and go, Marshawn's the real deal. I admire and respect folks that are authentic and are committed and are making a difference in a community that is as in need of role models and mentors as any in the country."
Newsom, a Niners fan at heart, says Lynch has been shoving Seahawks swag his way since their relationship sprouted, all-well knowing what it could do to derail Newsom's career as an elected official should he ever put any of it on.
Despite Lynch's good-natured attempts to bring down his friend Newsom politically, the state's 49th Lt. Gov. has been an avid supporter of Lynch's Oakland undertakings. Even with Lynch stationed some 800 miles north for most of the year, Newsom has seen an interest in the Oakland community continue to grow, with the two currently in talks about providing a community and learning center in the area - the "next step," as Newsom put it.
Two of the youths on site this day belonged to Shone Trice, a former Tech teammate of Lynch and Johnson who has spent his entire life in the town at the north end of the San Francisco Bay. Like Newsom, Trice has seen Lynch's trust to his home turf continue to thrive.
"Every year it gets better and better and better," said Trice. "I don't think there was this many kids last year. There are a whole lot of kids. It's a big difference. The majority of these kids, 98 percent of them will say their favorite team is the Seahawks and their favorite player is Marshawn Lynch because of him. They watch him.
They take these little memories for the rest of their life. They matter.
"If you see him out here he's interacting with all the kids, playing with them, and all that. He's like a big kid himself around the kids."
A day with the "big kid" Lynch isn't all fun and games, though. It also comes with "big kid" lessons that Trice is hoping his two youngsters will take away.
"Stay determined, work hard," Trice said. "If they want to get to where Marshawn's at, they've got to know it's not easy. All this stuff right here counts. It's important to come and give back to your community when you make it."
Newsom and Trice’s comments make you believe that no matter where Lynch ends up, he'll always remember where he came from. And if his aspirations in the community the past eight years are any indication, he shows no signs of losing sight of that.
"For these guys to hang out with Marshawn and have their friends and family here watching them, they take this not just for the day, week, or month," said Newsom. "But they take these little memories for the rest of their life. They matter."
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
The word "passionate" gets tossed around a lot, but Lynch and his cousin Johnson are passionate about their city and they're passionate about its kids.
For Lynch, he's naturally drawn to Oakland and everything it embodies, and he's not afraid to let you know it.
"I've learned a lot of lessons in Oakland," said Lynch. "I've seen many come and I've seen many go. Oakland has really just taught me about life. I feel that I'm proud of my city. I feel like [without it] I wouldn't have been the man who I am today. I've had ups and downs and I've been able to overcome them just because I feel like being from Oakland I've had to overcome so much.
"The reason that I've been able to bounce back from that is because of the strong backbone that I have," Lynch added. "And that I represent Oakland."
"We just try to be examples that they can relate to," Johnson explained. "Guys that they can communicate with and say, 'Oh, that's where Marshawn lived,’ or 'that's where Josh lived and I see those guys working out at Tech and I actually got to play with those guys.'"
Seth Smith is one such individual who can relate. He grew up playing running back for the Tech Bulldogs behind Lynch and was one of several coaches sporting white t-shirts at the Fam 1st camp that day. He admits seeing Lynch find success helped him realize his dreams.
"Even for me coming up, just seeing him make it, it made me think it's possible," said Smith, who was named the starting tailback as a walk-on junior at New Mexico State and went on to spend a summer in training camp with the 49ers after college.
"He ain't going nowhere," Smith added with a smile of Lynch's annual Oakland achievements. "It's home. He hasn't changed since he left home."
And the safe bet is he never will.