A Patient Akeel Lynch Is Ready For The Spotlight
From the “Success with Honor” mantra to “Black Shoes and Basic Blues,” Penn State football oozes traditions that are valued higher than winning itself — and although Penn State has gained notoriety as “Linebacker U” around the college football landscape, linebacker isn’t the only position that has seen consistent production year after year. The running back position at Penn State has seen its fair share of legendary runners over the course of the school’s history, but in 2015, one seasoned back with the starting job seemingly locked up wants to try his luck at putting his name up with some of the greats.
If you haven’t heard of Akeel Lynch, get familiar with him, because it’s a name that will be called frequently in 2015. Measuring at six-feet-tall and 220 pounds, Lynch is a bruising workhorse who draws comparisons to Penn State legend Tony Hunt. A north-south runner who averaged 4.6 yards-per-carry on 147 rushing attempts in 2014, Lynch could emerge as a surprise star as the featured back after sitting behind elder statesmen Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak for most of his Penn State career. With remarkable showings against Temple and Illinois — rushing for 130+ yards and a touchdown in each outing — it’s easy to feel Lynch’s impact on a game when the ball comes his way.
“You don’t get it when you want it, you get it when you need it, that’s how it is,” Lynch said. “I’m gonna take this opportunity and take full advantage of it. I’ve been grateful for the years I’ve had to learn from Bill [Belton] and Zach [Zwinak] and to see the positives in those years of becoming where I am today.”
With blue-chip freshmen Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson being added to the fold, the backfield is the deepest it’s been in years. In fact, the last time a Penn State backfield featured this much depth, it had the school’s all-time leading rusher Evan Royster,
traitor Silas Redd, and speedster Stephfon Green leading the show. With a more experienced offensive line and another year in James Franklin’s system, Penn State’s offensive showing should be night-and-day compared to last season’s inconsistent unit. Lynch garnered his fair share of preseason hype, highlighted by his addition to the Doak Walker Award watch list, which is given out to the nation’s top running back at the end of each season. If Lynch does win, he would join Penn State legend Larry Johnson as the only other Penn Stater to win the award.
Offensive coordinator John Donovan spoke on Lynch’s impact in the locker room as a veteran presence, and how that presence impacts the younger players on Penn State’s roster.
“I think my role has changed, in the sense where as one of the older guys, I’m a leader now and I have to bring these guys along with me,” Lynch said. “The role for me is kind of new, it’s kind of refreshing being the older guy and having people come up to you and ask for advice.”
Not only has Lynch developed mentally over the last three seasons, but his physical progression has been otherworldly too. To put it one way, Lynch is a physical beast, and it’s clear that he’s been putting time in the weight room over the winter. Lynch spoke on his development and how it’s helped him reach the cusp of something great.
“The mental aspect of the game, playing college football for three years, that has definitely helped as well,” Lynch said. “Just being more comfortable, I think I’m physically gifted but working on the mental part, I can take another step at that, and I have been.”
Lynch, who carries himself with high character and humility, says his aspirations reach higher than achieving on-field success; he wants to serve as a leader, one molded from the example set by Zwinak and Belton.
“I’ve definitely got lofty goals for myself, I obviously keep my goals personal but I think big things for me are transitioning from being a young guy to an older guy,” he said. “Helping these guys up and continuing on that legacy that Bill left for me and Zach left for me.”
Lofty goals. That sure sounds like something Penn State fans should be excited about. Grab your popcorn, because Sept. 5 is right around the corner. Akeel Lynch is ready — are you?