The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 20, 2013

Nittany Lions backfield gets company

Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE — Add Akeel Lynch to the stable of running backs with the potential to contribute at Penn State this fall.

He figures to join 1,000-yard rusher Zach Zwinak and junior Bill Belton in the backfield in 2013.

Lynch had a team-high 13 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown in the Blue-White scrimmage Saturday to end spring practice. He showed flashes of the power and dependability of Zwinak with the speed and big-play potential of Belton.

Coach Bill O’Brien elected to redshirt Lynch last year.

“I think that was a great decision,” he said. Coaches said “‘We want to redshirt you and give you that extra year.’ When I look back on it, being on the scout team and going against guys like (linebackers) Gerald Hodges, Mike Mauti day in and day out, I appreciate them so much for doing that for me.”

The commitment to Penn State extended beyond football too.

“I was asked this question, ‘If you were not to play football, would you still go to that school?’ To be honest with you, I could not leave Penn State,” he said. “Just the academics, the atmosphere. I just love this place.”

Sophomore walk-on Deron Thompson was the leading rusher Saturday with 97 yards on 12 carries.

Zwinak was limited to two carries for 16 yards after apparently hurting his left hand or wrist on opening series. The injury didn’t appear to be serious, though O’Brien said he would know more on Sunday.

Boston strong: Penn State held a moment of silence before the Blue-White kickoff Saturday to remember victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and honor the first responders who came to their aid.  

When asked, coach and Boston-area native Bill O’Brien said he didn’t personally know anyone directly affected by the bombings.

“I just feel terrible. I love that city. I grew up 20 minutes north of that city,” O’Brien said after the game.

He still has close family in the area. O’Brien also served as an assistant coach for five years under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots.  

Words from President Barack Obama this week resonated with O’Brien.

“It was like what President Obama said, Boston is a very resilient city, and we caught (the terror suspect) last night, so that was good.”

D-line shines: In his 14 seasons as defensive line coach, Larry Johnson has produced a steady stream of quality defensive linemen. If Saturday’s performance is any indication, that production will continue.

Six defensive linemen produced nine sacks. The big caveat though involved the modified scrimmage rules – just touching the quarterback produced a sack.

Still, tackle Austin Johnson and ends Brad Bars and Evan Schwan each had two sacks, and other linemates spent plenty of time in the backfield.

“I’m really looking forward to this year. I think the D-line’s going to be really good,” Bars said.

“It’s absolutely exciting. Some of the older guys, like me, are leading. It’s really cool to take some of the younger guys and being able to grow the room.”

Younger guys are going to need to step up after graduation losses up front, especially standout tackle Jordan Hill.  End C.J. Olaniyan, though, said the learning curve should be less steep.

“I feel like this year, since we ran the system for the second year, everything comes natural,” he said. “There wasn’t an adjustment period, learning on the fly. We know the plays a little better so we could react out there instead of thinking.”