OAKLAND, Calif. — Marshawn Lynch was coming home.
Or so the story went Wednesday, proliferated across various media channels, as the Oakland native reported to the Raiders’ facility. He passed a morning physical. A trade was processed for his rights. The running back was fitted for a large silver helmet, a black No. 24 sticker stamped to its front.
But those at Oakland Technical High, his alma mater, knew better.
Lynch was not coming home.
He never left it.
The Raiders finalized a two year, $16.5 million contract with the 31-year-old on Wednesday. Twelve days earlier, Lynch appeared at an open-gym session and played full-court basketball against students for more than an hour. Oakland filled a roster need with Lynch’s arrival. But the town did not gain Lynch, his presence a constant that makes his acquisition resonate in the community.
Oakland Tech can attest to this.
He grew up there. He starred there. He made a name for himself there.
Teenage football accomplishments, though, are not for what he is known.
Lynch, a 2004 graduate, is better known for his free football camps, holiday turkey giveaways and other programs as part of his Fam 1st Family Foundation. He is better known for casually riding his bike down Broadway just outside the campus, wearing a T-shirt that reads his brand: “Beast Mode.”
He’ll on occasion be spotted on the football field, participating in drills, or working out in the school’s rickety weight room with students. And, yes, he’ll play them in basketball from time to time, more a distributor than a shooter on the court.
“He’s visible to the point where he doesn’t want to be a superstar,” said Karega Hart, the school’s varsity basketball coach. “He wants to be someone who’s helping the community. He can’t stand adults who ask for anything. He’ll do anything for a kid. Marshawn is the type of guy to pick up anyone’s bike and ride it around campus. He’s a big kid.
“He’s comfortable around here with his people in Oakland. That’s why it’s a good fit for him to be here.”
Lynch may best be known for random, generous acts.
In 2012, he risked a fine from the Seahawks when he left the team during the season to check on K.C. O’Keith, his freshman year junior varsity football coach who nearly died from surgical complications with a perforated colon. Lynch was supposed to be in Seattle. He came to Oakland instead to check on his coach, visiting him after his hospital release and return to work, O’Keith said.
Lynch arrived on campus that November.
Dora Hopson, an instructional assistant in special education, said that she spotted him running down a hallway.
“I said, ‘Marshawn, why are you here?’ ” Hopson said. “He said, ‘I heard Coach is sick. I’ve got to come see him.’ I said, ‘Marshawn, you’re going to get fined. You’re not supposed to be here.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care. I have to come see about my coach.’ I said, ‘Marshawn, I’m worried about you. You need to — ’ and he said, ‘I’m not going back until I can see if Coach is all right.’
“I stood there and thought, ‘Wow. This kid has come here, and it’s not about being an NFL superstar, one of the greatest running backs there have been and ever will be. This is a young man who’s come back to see Coach, a man he loved and respected.’ I remember telling the kids, ‘That’s the Man of the Year right there.’ ”
A couple of years later, Lynch made another visit of note.
This time he took photos with dozens of students, except one. It was a teen who developed a habit of cutting Hopson’s class. Lynch spoke to him, she said, asking him if he wanted to graduate, encouraging him to attend the class.
The next day, Lynch returned.
He asked Hopson if the teen attended her class following their conversation. She said that he had. So, Lynch went to the student’s physical education class and took a photo with him. No other students were allowed to take a photo that day, Hopson said. Just him.
Hopson could not recall Wednesday the student skipping class again.
The Bills drafted Lynch in 2007, sending him to Buffalo. They traded him to the Seahawks in 2010, sending him to the Pacific Northwest. He has been to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. He’s flown to various locations like Ireland to push his endorsement of Skittles candy.
But he never left his hometown.
Oakland Tech students know this.
Many learned of his acquisition Wednesday either at home or en route to campus. Drake Darling-Jacob heard on-air from Sway, an Oakland-native radio host. The Raiders are the 16-year-old sophomore’s favorite team. Lynch is his favorite player. Darling-Jacob reacted in kind, screaming “Raider Nation!” and singing along to the Ice Cube song of the same name. Before an 8:10 a.m. zero period, he said his teachers “will be mad at me” because he planned to continue screaming “Raider Nation” in class.
Some wonder, at age 31 and following a year of retirement, what Lynch has left from a physical standpoint.
Darling-Jacob and cousin Jahmir Poole, 16 and a junior, are not concerned.
“He’s from Oakland,” Poole said, “so he’s ready.”
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Michael Gehlken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.