RB Lynch opens some eyes

STATE COLLEGE – Somewhere during the brief snow that fell sideways from wind gusts exceeding 20 miles per hour, Saturday’s Blue-White scrimmage at Penn State looked like a better day to evaluate talent everywhere but quarterback.

Sure, Tyler Ferguson and Steven Bench will compete with incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg into this summer for the starting nod in the fall, but Saturday provided a good backdrop to measure how other Nittany Lions might perform deep into November if they’re playing for first place in a Big Ten division they’re ineligible to win.

So consider tailback Akeel Lynch a bit of a revelation on that front. Lynch, a redshirt freshman from Toronto, showed he could be a serious option this fall for a running game that will be particularly important behind a first-year starting quarterback.

Lynch rushed for 83 yards on 13 carries with a handful of big runs and scored the game’s first touchdown on a first-quarter 1-yard plunge. But perhaps it was the way he looked that was more impressive, showing bursts of speed that were missing at Beaver Stadium last season when Zach Zwinak’s power style emerged and totaled 1,000 yards at a 4.9 per carry average as converted receiver Bill Belton struggled to stay healthy and on the field.

Zwinak did not play after the first series Saturday after suffering a wrist injury, creating some opportunity for Lynch and other backs in front of about 30,000 fans. Lynch said he heard some of the oohs and aahs with his darts and dashes, a scene he hopes to replicate in the fall after a redshirt year.

“It was fun, real exciting to play in Beaver Stadium for the first time,” said Lynch.

It’s been a bit of an unlikely road to Happy Valley for Lynch, one of the few Canada natives playing major college football. He caused some headlines this spring when news of a misdemeanor charge surfaced of his kicking a dorm window late last year, but said again Saturday the matter had been resolved. O’Brien downplayed the charge earlier this spring as well.

Now, Lynch hopes to create headlines for his play, and his background may help generate some. He didn’t play football until he was about 10, and he didn’t even know who Penn State was until his mother bought him a team jacket that happened to be his favorite color when he was 8.

“This Penn State jacket, she said they were big into football, but I wasn’t playing at that time,” said Lynch. “So I said, that’s cool.”

Lynch eventually moved to western New York during high school, where he was named the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year for New York rushing for 2,131 yards and 25 touchdowns at St. Francis High School in suburban Buffalo. But he learned to play the game in Canada, under American rules but on the bigger fields, which he didn’t think was a handicap.

Lynch’s first experience at Penn State was a redshirt season, which he said he didn’t want but learned to appreciate as it passed. He said he got a little stronger, dropped his 40 time down to 4.48, and got a little smarter about the game.

“It’s no knock on yourself, but it’s better this way,” said Lynch, who said on Saturday his goals for 2013 are to simply help on special teams and contribute in the backfield if called upon.

So far, coach Bill O’Brien likes what he sees.

“He ran hard, and we’re stressing with him getting his pads down over his toes,” said O’Brien. “He did a good job of that today. He’s a great kid, we’re glad he’s on our team.”

And Lynch is glad he got that jacket, for it put Penn State on his radar long before he seriously considered college or football.

“My mom and I said wouldn’t it be neat, that when I went to Buffalo and we laughed that I’d go (to Penn State),” said Lynch. “It was 20 bucks. A nice varsity jacket. A nice color.”