As the 2015 NFL Draft quickly approaches, there may be no more polarizing a prospect than Norfolk State’s enigma, Lynden Trail. But therein lies the question, what exactly is he? A defensive end, an outside linebacker or a tight end?
As a high school senior at Booker T. Washington High School near Miami, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound Trail had over 70 scholarship offers to play Division 1 football. Ultimately, he accepted Urban Meyer’s offer at Florida, partly because he reminded the coach of former Gator and first round pick Jarvis Moss. As he tried to bulk up, he discovered that SEC football was a far cry from playing under the lights Friday nights.
He even cites an experience in practice early on when he was pitted against current Steelers’ starter at tackle, Marcus Gilbert, a matchup that didn’t go so well.
“You can imagine how that matchup went,” Trail says.
In December of 2010, Meyer left and Will Muschamp was ushered in as new head coach. Trail, now weighing 225, still wasn’t even dressing for games, so he decided to take his talents elsewhere. After not playing in two years, the last thing he wanted to do was sit out a year due to the NCAA transfer rules. Norfolk State defensive line coach Mark Thurston came calling, and it helped that he was from Miami as well, so he was sold. An avid video editor since high school ,the mass communications program at Norfolk State also appealed to him, as he ultimately wanted to work for ESPN. Now, he has a shot to play on ESPN.
“I never in my wildest dreams, after transferring, thought I’d have a shot at the NFL,” Trail says.
He packed on weight, courtesy of an 8-meal-per-day diet plan, and often had to set alarms to notify him when it was time to eat again. As a redshirt sophomore, he cracked the rotation in the team’s 3-4 scheme, and tallied a team-leading 70 tackles, including 17-for-a-loss. His first season as a starter in 2013 was even better, as he logged 94 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 picks, 8 pass break-ups, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 blocked kicks. He even caught 3 scores on offense.
By the time his senior year rolled around, opponents were game planning around him.
“Everybody’s game plan was ‘Where’s No. 7?’ ” head coach Pete Adrian said. “He made the other guys better, because they weren’t going to run at Seven.”
Now standing 6-foot-7 and 269 pounds, he flashed his versatility by not only playing outside linebacker, but also put his hand in the dirt in 4-man fronts, playing tight end near the goal line and even was used as the gunner on punt teams.
Coincidentally enough, after grabbing an invite to the Senior Bowl, those three positions are the ones he practiced in. It still remains to be seen what position he’ll play at in the NFL, as his 40 time of 4.91 at the combine wasn’t anything to write home about. If drafted strictly to play defense, he could still be utilized as a J.J. Watt-esque tight end in goal line packages, instead of playing the position full time. Adrian believes his best fit would be as a 3-4 pass rushing linebacker, giving teams like the Steelers an advantage simply for the fact they wouldn’t have to substitute a player in and out, as he can play both standing up or with his hand in the dirt.
“Once they decide where to play him, he could easily be 280,” Adrian says. “Or he could be 255 and play tight end. He’s got good leverage, and he’s a strong kid.”
While training for the combine and his pro day, Trail has been working with Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White on expanding his pass rush repertoire, and learning moves for countering offensive lineman’s initial pop.
“You go with a preconceived move in your mind. Well, that’s going to change if the guy does something different,” White says. “You’ve got to be able to adapt to that. In working with Lynden, he’s got the ability to do that.”
He’s got an ability to do a lot of thing swell, but at which is he best pegged at? He has humongous size, which is something that can’t be coached. He has the frame of a Michael Johnson-Julius Peppers type of defender, and with his length it would appear a 4-3 end may be best suited, but he’s had success from the 3-4 outside linebacker spot as well. That versatility should be something that’s keen to the front office of Pittsburgh as they continue doing their due diligence on draft prospects over the next month or so. With Heath Miller getting up there in age, a developmental tight end wouldn’t be too far fetched either. Not so long ago, the Denver Broncos had a raw, developmental project named Julius Thomas and we saw how that turned out.
Instead of putting a square peg in a round hole, Trail has decided to keep his options open and let the discretion of the coaching staff that drafts him determine that. In his eyes, being on an NFL squad means not facing the reality of a 9-5 job that you hate.
“If you hate your job, you’re in the Real World,” Trail says. “It’s a struggle for you every day. You’re not excited to go to work.”
After watching his mother, Dorothea Williams, struggle to raise 4 boys in a rough neighborhood growing up, struggle is a word Trail never wants to think of again, for him or his mother.
“She doesn’t have to do another single thing in life if she doesn’t want to,” Trail says. “God willing, if I get drafted and make some money, she’ll never have to lift another finger.”