University of Toledo football coach Jason Candle defines grit plays as “things that are hidden in a game where guys just tough it out and make plays.”
Toledo special teams coordinator Robby Discher charts grit points on special teams each game based on those types of plays. Last season and so far this season there is one name that stands out above the rest in grit points: Jack Linch.
“He is that,” Candle said of Linch. “He’s gritty and he’s tough, and he’s a guy that comes to work each day and does what is asked of him and does it to the best of his ability. Good things happen when you play hard and play fast to the football. He’s been a warrior for us.”
Linch, a former Whitmer standout, came to Toledo as a walk-on, and through his toughness and work ethic he has worked his way to a scholarship and a big role this season on defense as a linebacker.
Early in his college career, special teams provided Linch a path to playing time. Even as a senior with a more defined role on defense, Linch is still involved in almost every special teams situation.
“My chances to play defense as a redshirt freshman were slim, so I wanted to get on the field and as soon as I got my chance on special teams, I knew they weren’t going to take me off,” Linch said. “I had to do something that made sure I solidified my spot on special teams, and I gradually worked my way up to playing more special teams. I think that put trust in me to go play defense.”
Even at Whitmer, Linch was a special teams leader. Linch’s special teams coach at Whitmer was Ken Winters, now the head coach of the Panthers.
“He was on every special team that we had,” Winters said. “He embraced it, and he excelled at it. Just to watch him, he does it in defensive practice and then he goes and does it on special teams, and it didn’t matter if it was a Monday practice or a Thursday practice or a Wednesday practice, he was going just as hard all the way and on special teams.”
Out of Whitmer, Linch had no Division I scholarship offers, but he gladly accepted a preferred walk-on role at his hometown college, where he grew up watching such players as Chester Taylor and Bruce Gradkowski at the Glass Bowl.
His hard work and positive attitude impressed his coaches, and in the spring of his junior year, Linch was rewarded with a full scholarship.
“It was a huge moment, to think about all the work you put in that got you to that point,” Linch said. “Coach Candle brought me into his office and told me he put me on scholarship. As soon as I got back, I called my mom, and my mom started crying. It got me teary-eyed, and then I called my dad, and it was just a great day.”
Candle said Linch’s progression as a player at UT can be a teaching point for young players who may not find immediate success or even playing time.
“I think it’s a blueprint for everyone that comes into the program as a walk-on or as a young player that maybe isn’t getting the time or getting the recognition that he thinks he deserves as a young player,” Candle said. “There were a couple of tough years there for Jack. But he puts his head down, and he shuts up and he just practices and just goes. That’s what you want. Those are the glue guys that keep the team together. The more of those you have, the better off you are going to be.”
Linch has excelled this season at linebacker with 31 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a diving interception at Central Michigan, the first of his career.
“We see a guy that comes to work every day and is locked in all the time physically, but more-so mentally,” UT linebackers coach Mike Ward said. “He’s very detail-oriented. He’s a perfectionist. He’s not the biggest, not the fastest, not the strongest, but he’s as dependable, as reliable, and as invested in this program as anybody I’ve been around. As a coach you don’t come to work wondering, ‘Is Jack Linch going to show up today?’ It’s a pleasure to coach him.”
Linch said he gets his work ethic from his parents, who taught him the value of hard work as a young kid.
“I take pride in just being consistent,” Linch said. “My parents taught me how to work hard and showed me how to work hard. I think it is something that is going to carry me through the rest of my life. If I can show how it’s worked out for me, I can continue to pursue it the rest of my life, too.”
Winters said he and the Whitmer staff have enjoyed following Linch’s progression at Toledo.
“All of us coaches, we have been cheering for Jack since day one,” Winters said. “He took the hard road, and he knew he would make it. Just because of his work ethic, he is a guy that punches the clock and just goes to work. Just knowing his mentality and how he works, we knew he would be successful going through that hard road and that process.
“It’s really encouraging to see how Jack did it — maybe not heavily recruited, but did it with desire to play. So if you want to put the time in and work, then it can be done. He’s proven that. It’s a great example for some of our kids to see.”
Ward says Linch is the perfect player to represent Toledo.
“He kind of represents the mentality of this town,” Ward said. “He’s a blue-collar, come-to-work guy. He’s tough, and we always use the term “Toledo tough,” and that is Jack Linch. He was overlooked because of his size and maybe his speed, but he’s earned everything. And that is what our program wants to be about.”