When Art Lynch arrived in Athens, GA as a freshman ready to start his Bulldogs career, reporters went up to him with a quizzical look. It had nothing to do with his Yankee accent as the Massachusetts born-and-bred Lynch stuck out like a sore thumb from the drawls and country boys around him. And it wasn't anything about his play on the field. It had everything to do with the name on the back of his jersey.
Recruiting analysts and reporters who followed the career of one of the nation's top tight end recruits from Dartmouth to Georgia's campus had been watching an Art Fontaine. Here they saw Art Lynch and were curious if he was a walk-on player trying to make the team. They wondered if there were two players named 'Art' on the Georgia roster with the same build at the same position.
Instead, Lynch was the four-star recruit formerly known as Fontaine. He made the decision to change his name when he turned 18-years old, throwing everyone off when he set foot on campus for training camp.
When he was 14-years old, his father left the family and his parents ended up being divorced. From that time on he was raised by his mother, a nurse as well as his grandfather, now in his early-80s who was a legendary high school football coach in Lynch's hometown.
His mother and his grandfather were always there for him whenever he needed help.
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The boy then called Fontaine remembers his senior year of high school when the team needed a long-snapper, it was his mother who stood 10 yards away in their driveway so her son could drill balls at her. His grandfather was equally involved in his young life, showing him "how to be and handle things like a man."
"I'm the first grandson after three old sisters. I'm the first grandson of my grandfather. He was so special to me. I talk to him at least once a week if not two or three times a week. He was my coach, my best friend - a father figure and a grandfather," Lynch told Metro. "I wanted to change it for him and for my mother. It reminds me every day that my actions reflect him and my mom. Not just me."
The relationship with his mother and grandfather remains as close as ever, something that continues even after he was a fifth round pick of the Miami Dolphins last year. When he goes home after the NFL season concludes, Lynch still lives with his mother "but I try to stay out of her hair."
The Jets acquired Lynch mid-August after he was cut from the team and went through waivers. He is a strong blocking tight end but in college also had some very solid receiving numbers.
He couldn't change his name to Lynch from Fontaine until he was 18-years old but then he filled out the necessary paperwork and petitioned the courts for the name change. In high school, the uniforms for Dartmouth only had numbers on the back, no names were stitched. So the first time he wore 'Lynch' on his jersey didn't come until the Under-Armour All-America High School Football Game after his senior season in Orlando.
He remembers the moment and what it meant to him.
"I knew ultimately when I made that change...it wasn't a screen name, it wasn't a Twitter handle. If I was going to change my name, it'd carry a lot of weight. It was something serious to say the least," Lynch said. "My grandfather was a high school coach for 35 years. He's a very special individual to many people. I knew if I was going to change my name and represent it in a positive way, I'd have to live it. I'm definitely proud of it."
He has always been one to go his own way. In high school, there was some pressure to go to Boston College where a legacy was in place. If he had gone there, his family would have been a very short drive to see him play and he would have been close to those who were there for him after his parents divorced.
But Fontaine, now Lynch, didn't want to go that route or play for the other schools in the area that had also offered him. Instead, he wanted to set out and make his own name.
So the boy from New England set off down to Georgia to make his own way.
"I think there was kind of a shadow to go over me to go to B.C., to me the hometown kid, the hometown school, in order to make a name for myself as a player I wanted to set my own way. There was a risk, ultimately it paid off. But if I play 10 years in the NFL or not, I think I accomplished the goals I set out to," Lynch said.
"I wanted to set out and make my own mistakes, have my own achievements. Be my own man. "
His own man with his own name.