RENTON, Wash. -- Marshawn Lynch was a reluctant beast.
As a 7-year-old playing Pop Warner, he was content to play on the offensive and defensive lines. That was until his grandfather, Leron Lynch, pulled the coach aside one day and suggested that little Lynch might be more useful with the football in his hands.
Begrudgingly, the coach let the kid handle a kickoff return.
"Marshawn got the ball and just took off," Grandpa Lynch recalled by phone this week. "He would run over people. He would run around them. And he hasn't stopped running since."
The 49ers will be the latest to try to catch him Sunday, in the NFC Championship game. The Seattle Seahawks running back enters on one of his rumbling rolls, having rushed for 140 yards last Saturday, including a game-clinching 31-yard "Beast Mode" touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints.
"Marshawn was running ridiculous," as Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell put it this week.
It was the third time in his career that Lynch topped 130 yards in a playoff game, a mark topped only by Terrell Davis (five times) and Thurman Thomas (four) since 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
No running back managed 100 yards against the ferocious 49ers rushing defense this season, but Lynch came the closest. He rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-3 victory over San Francisco in Week 2.
He has looked, in short, a lot like the guy who used to terrorize defenders in the East Bay, from Pop Warner through Oakland Tech through Cal.
"That run last week? I remember him doing the exact same thing against Oregon one time. It was identical," said Ron Gould, the running backs coach at Cal when Lynch was there from 2004-06 and now the head coach at UC Davis. "He's worth the price of admission, I'll tell you that.
"He was so athletic. He could have played linebacker or cornerback or tight end -- even quarterback, because he could throw the ball. He's just a very, very talented guy."
Lynch leads the NFL with 39 total touchdowns since the start of 2011 (two more than the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson). He is also the only player in the NFL to amass 1,000 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.
His consistency is enough for quarterback Russell Wilson to shrug off the Seahawks' ho-hum passing game of late. Seattle managed only 103 passing yards against the Saints.
"Marshawn rushed for something like 150 yards," Wilson mused. "Why wouldn't you keep handing it to him?"
So what does Lynch think about being within a few broken tackles of his first Super Bowl? That's tough to say. The enigmatic running back barely speaks to the media, and when he does, such as Friday, he leaves music cranked up at his locker.
The conversation went nowhere. (Q: What is your overall assessment of the Seahawks season? A: Pretty good. Pretty good.)
But, boy, Lynch can talk when he wants to. Jeffrey Chadiha chased him down for ESPN's "E:60" series earlier this year, and the running back opened up about growing up in a rough section of Oakland.
Lynch pointed to his legendary Beast Quake run -- a 67-yarder against the Saints in an NFC wild-card game on Jan. 8, 2011 -- as an extended metaphor.
"Growing up, being where I'm from, a lot of people don't see the light," Lynch told E:60. "I didn't see the light in that play. Went forward, ran into some trouble. Being on food stamps, living in the projects. Running headfirst into linebackers. Start to play football. Things opened up for me a little bit. Breaking a couple more tackles. Going to jail. Getting in trouble. Coming out of that. Touchdown.
"I guess you could say that run is symbolic of my life."
Leron Lynch gets a kick out of the lengths his grandson goes to in avoiding the spotlight. He said that's been Marshawn's style since childhood. On the day Leron was nudging the coach to give Marshawn the ball, the kid was tugging on his arm saying, "No, Poppa. It's OK. I just want to play."
To this day, Marshawn won't autograph photos for his family members, Leron said, "because he just doesn't want anyone to look at him as special."
Lynch didn't look so special for a few years starting in 2007. He started his career in Buffalo, after the Bills drafted him 12th overall. Lynch ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, but he also took a few off-field detours.
His transgressions included a gun charge, a hit-and-run incident and a DUI. The Bills had had enough, trading Lynch to the Seahawks on Oct. 5, 2010.
That's when the Beast began rising in the West.
"Honestly, this is exactly what I had hoped for," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday. "I hoped that he would get a new lease on life, we would get the benefit of him jumping into a situation where he was going to be appreciated and understood and utilized.
"He's captured our club with his leadership and his toughness and his style of play. So I couldn't be happier for the way it's turned out. ... He's maxed out this. It's been a beautiful thing."
Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.
AFC: New England at Denver, noon CBS
NFC: 49ers at Seattle, 3:30 p.m. FOX
Harbaugh says team is "ready, excited, prepared." PAGE 5
Purdy: Teammates would love to get Gore a Super Bowl ring.
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