MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Desperate for a quarterback, Justin Fuente heard of Paxton Lynch thanks to a note an administrator left on the new Memphis coach's desk. Few video clips existed of the quarterback actually throwing a football, so Fuente sent assistant Darrell Dickey to Florida to meet Lynch.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Desperate for a quarterback, Justin Fuente heard of Paxton Lynch thanks to a note an administrator left on the new Memphis coach's desk.
Few video clips existed of the quarterback actually throwing a football, so Fuente sent assistant Darrell Dickey to Florida to meet Lynch.
"Luckily for us, he didn't have a lot going on recruiting-wise," Fuente said. "We went ahead and offered him, and obviously happy that we did."
Now Lynch is poised to be among the top quarterbacks drafted Thursday night, and the highest ever selected from a school best known for basketball. Not bad for someone who taught himself the mechanics of playing quarterback and who learned how to throw a football by how he tossed a baseball.
"I definitely taught myself how to do everything as a quarterback," Lynch said. "I never had a quarterback coach growing up in high school or anything like that."
The quarterback who had only two offers coming out of Trinity Christian Academy in Deltona, Florida, has visited with 12 NFL teams ranging from Philadelphia, now picking No. 2 overall, to the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos at No. 31. Winning MVP at the Central Florida All-Star game may have been the performance that helped Lynch get noticed after he missed the first half of his senior season with an injured knee.
Once Memphis called, Lynch started studying, too. Memphis sent running back DeAngelo Williams and defensive tackle Dontari Poe to the NFL, but Steve Matthews was the last quarterback drafted from the Tigers back in 1994 — a fifth-round pick by Kansas City.
"I just knew Memphis because I'd seen their basketball team," Lynch said. "I didn't know anything about the football team."
Fuente's work with Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton at TCU persuaded Lynch to sign with Memphis, even when Central Florida made a last-minute offer.
"I knew he did a good job with Andy Dalton, developing him and giving him a chance to go to the next level, and I knew I'd have an opportunity to do the same thing," Lynch said.
Lynch arrived on campus a gangly 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. Fuente promptly redshirted the quarterback despite being in the midst of rebuilding a program that went 3-21 before the coach was hired. Lynch improved rapidly, growing another inch and packing on 20 more pounds.
"The other part of it was that as he became stronger, he became a better athlete," Fuente said. "That's not always the case."
Lynch moved into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and never left. He beat BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl to end the 2014 season and was even better in 2015.
He led an upset of Mississippi and tied an NCAA record by throwing seven touchdown passes to seven different receivers against SMU in his final home game. Lynch threw for 3,778 yards, completing 69.1 percent of his passes with 28 TD passes and only four interceptions.
Then Fuente left for Virginia Tech, leaving Dickey to coach Lynch and the Tigers in the Birmingham Bowl. Memphis lost to Auburn with Lynch having an ugly performance, completing just 16 passes for 106 yards against the Southeastern Conference defense.
"Paxton's too professional and too proud to make excuses for it, but I will," Fuente said. "That was just a tough deal."
Lynch bypassed his senior season and entered the draft, signing with agent Leigh Steinberg. He prepped for the NFL combine by working with Charlie Taaffe to refine everything from calling plays, working under center and dropping back to pass. He drew about 25 NFL scouts to his pro day April 6 and visited with teams through April 20.
Steinberg said Lynch has been showing just how well he has mastered the three-, five- and seven-step drop.
"Paxton has the highest upside of any of the quarterbacks in the draft and fits into the new vogue of quarterbacks Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger," Steinberg said. "Great size, strength. But in his case, the athleticism to move out of the pocket and escape the rush. You rarely see someone that's that tall, that's that size, with the ability to run like a much smaller player."
Lynch certainly feels Memphis prepared him for the NFL. Fuente had him dropping back to pass, throwing from a moving pocket, huddling his teammates and calling plays under center over his three seasons while also running the spread offense.
"I've tasted everything and (it) showed me I could do anything as long as I had an opportunity to work at it," Lynch said.
He'll get his chance to prove that soon enough.
This story has been updated to add a dropped word to clarify the quote in the next to last paragraph.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker