RB Lynch impresses in B-W debut

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Akeel Lynch clapped his hands as he walked off the field Saturday. He smiled, waved to a few cameras and seemed happier than some of the fans who snagged autographs from PSU coaches.

This was the tailback's debut, the first time he competed in front of more than a scattered high school crowd. Last season he redshirted and watched his teammates from Beaver Stadium's sideline. So, on a chilly afternoon during the Blue-White Game, with grass stains covering his white pants, Lynch tried to take it all in.

That smile wasn't just because of his numbers -- 13 carries, 83 yards, one touchdown -- or because fans applauded as he jogged toward the tunnel. He has been waiting for this for a long time, and when asked about it he couldn't help but grin again.

"I was just happy because I finally played in Beaver Stadium," he said. "This is something I dreamed about since I got that Penn State jacket as an 8-year-old, and actually coming out and playing in Beaver Stadium -- finally getting a grass stain on my jersey -- it's a dream come true. I was all smiles."

That jacket, a blue $20 varsity jacket purchased by his mom in Erie, Pa., came during fifth or sixth grade, before Lynch ever heard of the school. He liked the color blue, so his mom thought he'd like the garb. And, when he moved from Canada to Buffalo as a high school junior, his mom found that same jacket and gave it back.

"Wouldn't it be funny if you go to Penn State?" he remembered her asking.

His mom was there in the crowd Saturday, undoubtedly smiling along with her son. After all, Lynch was the name that rested on most people's minds immediately after the game. His teammates, fellow tailback Zach Zwinak and linebacker Glenn Carson, talked in the weeks leading up to the Blue-White Game about his progress.

Fast, quick, explosive -- those terms were thrown around often in regard to Lynch. But they were just adjectives until Saturday. Neither fans nor the media really had an opportunity to watch him play, but those same teammates didn't exactly shake their heads in disbelief about his performance.

"Nah," Carson said when asked if he was surprised. "I see it all the time. I get to see him in practice, and I think he's a great player, a great running back, and he's going to do really well for us in the future."

Lynch, a 6-foot, 214-pound redshirt freshman, is expected to compete as part of a three-headed running attack this season. He'll join Zwinak, a returning starter, and junior Bill Belton and likely split carries.

Lynch is not sure what his share might be -- Lions coach Bill O'Brien probably doesn't know yet -- but he was the star Saturday. Zwinak injured his hand and was kept out for the rest of the game, and Belton left the pads in the locker room because of a toe injury.

Lynch flashed his speed on the outside, and boasted several runs of more than 10 yards. His longest went for 27 yards, and O'Brien praised him during the one drive he decided to mike up, so his comments were heard over the loudspeaker.

"Good running, Akeel!" O'Brien boomed. And later: "Keep those pads down, Akeel!"

Lynch could be a critical weapon in the 2013 offense. O'Brien very nearly plugged him into the rotation during Week 2 last season before opting to redshirt him.

No matter what role he takes on, though, Lynch said he's ready.

"My goal is to definitely just contribute any way possible," Lynch said. "If they ask me to run down the field and knock a couple heads, I'll do that. If they ask me to carry the ball 30 times, I'll do that.

"Anything just to help the team. win. I put the team first before me."