The first time Danny Etling threw a football after his back surgery, he knew something wasn’t right.
He wasn’t generating much power on his throws, and what power he could produce, came with the cost of excruciating pain.
Etling was still going through treatments and rehabilitation, but that wasn’t enough to solve the problem. To be able to return to playing the way he was capable of, Etling needed to learn how to throw all over again.
But since it was only early June, Etling couldn’t work with LSU coaches yet because of NCAA rules prohibiting such contact.
That’s when LSU Director of Athletic Training Jack Marucci stepped in with an idea.
What about Matt Flynn?
Flynn has been in semiretirement for the last year after signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2015 as a replacement for injured backup quarterback Luke McCown.
Before that, he was a seventh-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2008 then bounced around the league to Seattle, Oakland, Buffalo, back to Green Bay, New England and the New York Jets.
But LSU fans probably remember him best as the last Tigers’ quarterback to bring a national championship back to Louisiana in 2007.
Now living in Baton Rouge and still involved with the program as a fervent supporter, Flynn was the ideal candidate to get Etling ready for the season.
The hope was Flynn could take that knowledge and pass it on to Etling.
Flynn wasted no time.
“Just really getting down to the basics of body mechanics,” Flynn said. “I wasn’t trying to work on his arm or his release point or his arm mechanics.
"I wanted to work on a couple things with him and that was really how to generate as much power without having to exert as much energy as he was in the past, how to use his entire body to create as much power as possible and how to become a more accurate passer.”
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The two began meeting at the LSU practice facility a couple times per week at first and even more often as preseason camp approached.
It was just them out there, never a receiver or running backs or linemen. Just Etling learning one step at a time.
Flynn compared it to teaching a golfer proper technique: a professional with a precise motion can generate vastly greater power than someone twice his size.
Etling was an avid student, always showing up early, staying late and eating up every bit of information he could.
Pretty soon, Flynn said, Etling developed the ability to coach himself. If a ball sailed high, he understood what happened. If it dropped low, Etling knew how to fix it.
“My fundamentals,” Etling said. “After the surgery, it was kind of tough to throw like I wanted to. He would come in sometimes and work with me as far as me trying to get my hip through and trying to make sure I threw without any pain. That was big.”
Two Matchups To Watch
Etling wasn’t the only one learning new things, though.
In all his years as a quarterback, Flynn never took on a mentee the way he did with Etling.
Sure, there was the odd lesson here and there, but never a consistent relationship where he passed on his knowledg.
At first, Flynn struggled expressing his thoughts in a way easily understandable and applicable.
But as he grew more comfortable in the teacher role, Etling showed signs of steady improvement.
“Danny is a talented guy,” Flynn said. “I’m not the guy that made him throw the ball well. But I saw from when we started working — he was coming off that surgery, so he was still working though treatments and stuff like that — but he was more consistent, more accurate. I noticed a pop on the ball as we kept going through the summer, and I think he could feel it.”
Even though Etling since returned to his team, he and Flynn remain close.
Flynn can often be found around Tiger Stadium on game days, and if Etling needs advice, Flynn is always there.
After a rough outing at Mississippi State last Saturday in which Etling completed 13 of his 29 pass attempts in a 30-point loss, Flynn told Etling to block out any of outside criticism.
As for any conversations about winning a national championship, both laughed off the question, saying that only came up in passing.
For now, they’re content getting better, one day at a time.
“He’s obviously a big supporter of mine, and I’m a big supporter of his,” Etling said. “Any question I have about football or even just leadership aspects, he’s always texting me and always able to respond and talk with me. He always makes time to come out here. He’s a football junkie.
“He’s been so helpful, not just to me, but to everyone in the quarterback room, as well. If they have any questions, he’ll answer. He's been a really good resource for me to pull from. He’s been awesome.”
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