UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It was pretty hard not to laugh at how nearly everything freshman running back Akeel Lynch said Saturday circled back to Canada. Even Lynch seemed to be laughing or smiling at the stories he told of his Toronto upbringing after the Blue-White spring game (won, 67-47, by the defense -- better not to ask).
When he goes home, his friends have to ask him where he lives. They hear Penn State and have no idea. When he developed interest in football as a child, his mother was clueless and spent a couple of weeks searching for an area team. Oh, and this, too -- coach Bill O'Brien supposedly calls Lynch "Big Maple."
That nickname, his smile, his self-deprecating sense of humor, everything stood out about Lynch. In a game involving snow, rain, a misty haze, sunshine and a scoring system developed by Pythagoras, Lynch may have been the most memorable aspect. He rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown. It was his first real action in front of fans as a Nittany Lion.
Last summer, Lynch entered Penn State as one of its top recruits. Then, according to multiple reports, he strongly considered transferring to Iowa. After recommitting himself to Penn State (he said he thought of which school he'd rather go to if he wasn't playing football and decided Penn State was the right choice), Lynch was considered a candidate to play as a freshman.
By the Virginia game, he began to realize that wouldn't happen. Even as Bill Belton missed time with an injury, running backs such as Derek Day, Curtis Dukes and Zach Zwinak played ahead of him. At about the same time, Lynch asked the coaching staff to put him on the scout team at practice.
"I knew that I was going to be redshirted," he said, "so let me take this opportunity to go against guys like Mike Mauti, Jordan Hill, Steph Morris."
Usually, he assumed the role of each opponent's starting running back.
"My favorite week was, obviously, Wisconsin," he said. "I played Montee Ball. I think have a similar style."
Lynch credited the redshirt year for helping him better understand the offense and the college game, as well as becoming a bigger, faster player. He said he weighs 215 pounds, up from 205, and still runs a 4.48 40-yard dash. O'Brien said he'd like Lynch to stay lower to the ground when he runs.
Zwinak, Penn State's starter at running back, left the game early because of a hand injury after two rushes for 16 yards (O'Brien said he didn't know the extent of the injury). Belton didn't play because of a toe injury. Another unheralded running back, sophomore Deron Thompson, rushed for 97 yards on 12 carries.
Clearly, Penn State has many options, but that doesn't bother Lynch.
"We all love each other," he said. "It's competitive, but it's also very friendly. When one of us does well, we cheer him on."
No quarterback decision
O'Brien said he wasn't any closer to naming a starting quarterback or even a leading quarterback than he was at the beginning of spring practice. Saturday, sophomore Steven Bench threw for 99 yards and a touchdown on 9-for-15 passing. Junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson, a sophomore, threw for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 9-for-15 passing.
O'Brien declined to say what kind of improvement or production he would look for to help him make his decision.
"I enjoy coaching both guys and, eventually, we'll have to make a decision," he said. "But I'm not ready."
O'Brien has said that incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg also will get a shot this fall.
Penn State lands recruit
Penn State secured a commitment from De'Andre Thompkins Saturday, according to an announcement Thompkins made on Twitter and multiple recruiting websites.
Thompkins, who is listed as an athlete rather than by a position, stands 6 feet 1, weighs 170 pounds and attends Swansboro High School in North Carolina, According to Rivals, he is a three-star recruit who had offers from Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame among others. He is Penn State's fifth commitment for the class of 2014.
Tight end Jesse James led Penn State in receiving, with five receptions for 77 yards. Freshman Richy Anderson caught a touchdown pass. Tight ends Adam Breneman and Kyle Carter did not play. ... Defensive tackle Austin Johnson, the recipient of much praise in spring practice, had five tackles, tying for the lead with linebacker Charles Idemudia. ... O'Brien was miked for the first series of the third quarter. He called plays, complimented fans and memorably said to his players, "I'm on the loudspeaker now. Don't make me yell at you."