Penn State running back Akeel Lynch, who has displayed impressive skills in the limited opportunities afforded him this season, displayed one more Wednesday morning -- a stiffarm (at least in the verbal sense), directed at reporters during a conference call.
Asked every which way to share his reaction to the announcement one day earlier that the NCAA was lessening the scholarship limits placed on the program last summer, he allowed that yes, it was surely great news for Penn State, as well as the program. But he quickly added that he and his teammates were focused on making improvements during the bye week, with an eye on the Big Ten opener at Indiana on Oct. 5.
Only when the redshirt freshman was asked about the supposedly skewed culture at PSU -- the issue at the very heart of the sanctions meted out in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal -- did Lynch offer his most candid, most pointed response.
And that was this: We play football. We graduate our players. We're just doing what the NCAA asks us to do, and we're going to continue to do that.
Born in Toronto and raised in Buffalo, Lynch was one of the plums of the recruiting class signed in February 2012 -- a class wooed by the previous coaching staff and secured by Bill O'Brien and his new assistants, who arrived barely a month before National Signing Day.
And Lynch was among those who chose to stay after the NCAA lowered the boom in July 2012, even though he was obviously shocked when he first heard of the sanctions' severity.
I didn't know what to do, but I took time out, took a couple weeks to gather my thoughts, he said. I thought about the bigger picture. I thought about the long run. College is only for four years, but wherever you go to college can impact the next 40 years.
He said he took football out of the equation, that he thought about academics and the social life and the opportunities that might be available to him down the road, given Penn State's Army of alums. And he figured it was the best place for him.
His stance did not change, even as he was redshirted last fall.
I think every freshman that goes into college believes they can play right now, he said, just because they came from high school (and) they were the guy. But I believe redshirting was one of the best decisions I made, because I was able to improve physically. The bigger thing was, I was able to get acclimated to school and the social life. I was able to get used to college, without worrying about playing. When this year came up, I was actually a lot more comfortable with school and everything outside of football.
He is the Lions' second-leading rusher through four games, with 263 yards on 32 carries, an impressive per-carry average of 8.2. At 6 feet and 214 pounds, he has shown speed and power, though it seems clear he is the third man in a three-man running back rotation with Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton.
Lynch has seen most of his action at the end of PSU's two one-sided victories, rushing for 94 of his 108 yards in the fourth quarter of the 45-7 rout of Eastern Michigan, and 117 of his 123 yards in the last 16:38 of last week's 34-0 victory over Kent State.
He did not carry the ball at all in the opener against Syracuse, a 23-17 victory, and carried five times (for 32 yards) in the loss to Central Florida.
Right now obviously there's a lot of things I can improve on myself, he said.
Overall it's just being consistent, running with my pads lower, picking up on my pass assignments, just holding on to the ball -- just continuing to improve my all-around game.
Pass protection had been an issue before this fall, but in his estimation he's holding up OK in that department. I haven't missed a blitz pickup since I've been in, he said.
But clearly there are other refinements to be made. (It is notable, for instance, that he doesn't have a single reception to date.) And he seems eager to make them, eager to soak up everything he can. There is no evidence of sulking, even though Lynch, a 2,000-yard rusher as a high school senior, now finds himself part of an ensemble cast.
I took a different perspective from it, he said, adding that he views his situation as more of a learning experience.
I try to learn each and every day, he said, because I've got maybe one more year with as much as I can take from (the other tailbacks), so when my time comes as a junior or senior, I can pass on what I learned from them and continue the legacy from there.
When Zwinak is in the game, Lynch said, I watch how he runs over guys
and learn from his one-cut ability.
And Belton, Lunch said, runs great routes out of the backfield and shows elusiveness on his rushing attempts.
The stiffarm? Lynch already has that. And it works in every setting.