Penn State’s Lynch Warms To Role As Leader

Nittany Lion redshirt junior is suddenly the veteran in PSU’s running backs room.

A native of Toronto, Penn State running back Akeel Lynch knows how to handle the bitter cold that has gripped Pennsylvania the last couple of weeks. It's all about being prepared.

“I just know how to deal with it,” Lynch said recently. “I'm not a fan of the cold. I just know that when it's cold outside, you better have a good winter jacket and you better bundle up.”

Preparation has been the key for the new role Lynch has in the running backs room at Lasch Building, too. Up until the end of last season, he was always viewed as an up-and-comer at the position.

Even though he led the Nittany Lions in rushing yards (703) and attempts (147) in 2014, he was not even close to being the team's most experienced back.

Fifth-year senior Zach Zwinak compiled 2,108 career rushing yards and 21 scores before seeing his final campaign cut short by an ankle injury. Fourth-year senior Bill Belton accounted for 2,066 career all-purpose yards and 18 scores.

Now they are gone, and Lynch is the only veteran scholarship player in a room that includes three redshirt freshmen (Mark Allen, Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas). A pair of new faces (Class of 2015 signees Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson) come on board in the summer.

Running backs coach Charles Huff said Lynch is now the clear leader of the group.

“He's gonna have to be that for us,” Huff said. ”I believe from the success he had last year, that kind of helped him mature and some of the younger guys started to look up to him as a leader -- even some of the older guys. He's going to have to carry that on through the winter and then the spring. Then when the season starts, he should be able to run with it with the rest of those (older) guys.”

“Just being an older guy, you're forced into the role,” Lynch added. “But I always saw this coming. Seeing Zach and Bill leave, I prepared myself for what to do and what not to do. So seeing those guys before me, and now with my chance coming up, I definitely have to be a leader.”

That has started in winter workouts. Lynch has taken advantage of the early morning sessions, and has already bulked up to 222 pounds (he is listed at 215 on the latest PSU roster). While he admits that ”I'd prefer to sleep in” than report for duty at 5 a.m., he added, “I understand it, man. Football is more mental than physical, to be honest with you. So those morning workouts, you've got to get your mind right and prepare yourself for a game-day mentality.”

Lynch reported that the redshirt freshmen are buying in to that approach, too.

“All three of them -- J.T., Nick and Mark -- are stepping up really well and the future is really bright for all of us,” Lynch said. “We're all working hard. There's no running back who slacks. We all have that mind-set of being the best we can be, and push each other to that limit.”

In the meantime, Huff has liked what he's seen of Lynch as a leader.

“He's not really waiting anymore for another guy to leave,” Huff said.

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