Penn State running back Akeel Lynch ready to become leader in backfield
STATE COLLEGE -- Akeel Lynch came to Penn State in 2012 with big expectations.
The 2011 New York Gatorade Player of the Year, Lynch quickly found out that the college level is a learning process, one full of ups and downs, bumps and bruises.
He stayed patient, said and did all the right things and waited for his opportunity to prove his talents.
That opportunity has arrived. And Lynch is ready to run with it.
The 5-foot-10, 222-pounder from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, will be the feature running back in Penn State's offense in 2015. After sharing the workload with Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak the past two seasons, Lynch is expected to lead a young, but talented, group of tailbacks.
Mature and confident, Lynch is ready to accept that challenge.
"I have to prove myself each and every day throughout camp and during the season," Lynch said during Thursday's annual Penn State Football Media Day at Beaver Stadium. "Being an older guy, I definitely have the advantage with experience over the young guys, so my role is to help these guys and pick them up.
"When you have iron with iron, that's when you get a lot of competition and bring the best out of yourself. I need to bring these guys up with me. Competing with me, will bring the best out of all of us."
After redshirting in 2012, Lynch made an immediate impact as a freshman when he rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in an early-season victory over Eastern Michigan. He later rushed for 123 yards in a win over Kent State, but never emerged as the Lions' No. 1 runner. He finished with 358 yards and a touchdown on 60 carries.
Last season, Lynch entered preseason camp as part of a three-back rotation with Belton and Zwinak. At Media Day, Lynch avoided controversy and stayed humble, saying all the right things.
His talking came on the field after Zwinak was lost for the season due to injury and Belton had bouts with ineffectiveness and injury.
Lynch rushed for 393 yards and three scores in Penn State's final four games, including 130 yards against Temple and 137 at Illinois. In the Nittany Lions' 31-30, overtime victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, Lynch led PSU in rushing with 75 yards on 17 carries.
Lynch finished as Penn State's leading rusher with 678 yards on 147 carries, an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
"I can't wait to see him play this year. I can not wait," offensive coordinator John Donovan said. "He seems very focused and locked in, very determined.
"He ended last year on a really great note, and he's got a chance to really take the reins this year and provide us with some leadership."
A senior with junior eligibility, Lynch is joined in the backfield by three redshirt freshmen: Mark Allen, Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas.
Penn State coach James Franklin expects Lynch to not only be the Lions' workhorse, but be a good leader and role model for the younger backs.
"I'd love for him from Day 1 until the end of the season to make it clearly obvious that we have one big-time back that we can hang our hat on while we're developing those other guys," Franklin said.
"Akeel has been a tremendous leader with the young running backs and the younger players. He's been as consistent and as hard working as anybody in our program. He's just done a great job.
"He's been patient, kind of waited for his time. He's prepared that when that time comes, he's going to be ready."
Lynch's maturity level showed Thursday, as he talked about being a leader and how he has to be patient and continue to work hard despite climbing into the No. 1 spot.
He knows that a lot of eyes will be on him as the Lions go through camp in preparation for their season opener Sept. 5 against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field.
"The big thing is patience," Lynch said. "Last year was our first year in the offense, so definitely we had our bumps and bruises. I need to patient coming into the second year, and continue to work hard.
"Knowing that I have a lot of young guys behind me, it's putting a lot on myself to become a leader on and off the field. On the field, I know I'm going to have to take a lot more reps.
"My work ethic hasn't changed, because I'm always going to work hard. But my role has changed in a sense because I'm a leader now."
This article was written by Leroy Boyer from Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.