ANNAPOLIS — Shawn Lynch dutifully moved from wide receiver to safety after his freshman season at Navy.
He made the switch back after last year while barely saying a word.
Now, there’s a lot to say about the junior thanks to a four-catch performance in the Midshipmen’s season-opening loss to Notre Dame.
Lynch helped solidify a wide receiver corps down both of its projected starters in the opener, further establishing a place in Navy’s offense entering Saturday’s game at Penn State (0-2).
“I didn’t want him to sit on the bench there because I knew he would play on the offensive side of the ball, especially the way we rotate,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We may not roll as many guys in the secondary. At wideout, they all play. In my mind, Shawn was too good to sit on the bench. That’s why we moved him back to offense.”
He might not start for Navy, not with senior Brandon Turner back in the mix after a tumultuous preseason and Matt Aiken possibly returning from an August knee injury. Nonetheless, Lynch is in a better spot than he was almost a year ago while playing plenty.
Lynch earned a starting nod at free safety for the Mids’ first five games and eventually adjusted to playing defense. But he struggled mightily, particularly Oct. 8 against Southern Mississippi. Chris Ferguson, then a freshman, took over the starting spot, and Lynch made only three tackles the rest of the season.
“It was frustrating, but it was on me,” Lynch said. “I was messing up. I wasn’t making plays.”
As Navy sorted through the aftermath of its 5-7 finish, it searched for ways to avoid another losing season. Ferguson established himself, and senior Tra’ves Bush was a lock to handle the other safety spot. Playing time for Lynch likely would be scarce.
So it was without resistance that Lynch shipped back to offense.
“Shawn’s kind of a quiet guy like me, so when they moved him around he never really said much,” quarterback Trey Miller said.
There were benefits to the switch. There would be no long climb up the depth chart for Lynch, who began the spring as a second-stringer.
He also was reunited with Miller, his quarterback at the academy’s prep school in 2009.
“As soon as I came back to receiver and we started throwing again, it was pretty much automatic,” Lynch said. “We already had a little connection, so it was pretty good.”
It showed in the opener, when he collected four passes for 87 yards (the most by a Mid since Greg Jones had 129 against Arkansas State in 2010) and a touchdown while also using his strength to aggravate the Irish’s defensive backs as a blocker.
“He’s very even keel,” said wideouts coach Mick Yokitis, who also coached Lynch at the academy’s prep school. “He’s not going to say much. It was good to see he got excited [against Notre Dame]. He caught a touchdown pass and got excited. He was blocking the heck out of some corners and got excited. It’s a little bit of a side of Shawn I haven’t seen before.”
It also was a hint that despite a penchant for few words, Lynch has found happiness at his original position.
“We moved him over there because he’s 6-2, he’s athletic and we thought he’d be a good fit at secondary,” Niumatalolo said. “But he’s a wide receiver at heart.”