Akeel Lynch — an always-smiling Canadian with the ability to run over defenders — was a fan-favorite and Penn State’s lead back before Saquon Barkley took over.
We caught up with Lynch for this week’s “Five Questions,” discussing Barkley, transferring to Nevada and how concussions ended his career.
Q: You were a really likable guy at Penn State by fans and teammates. Between the big games and injuries, how do you look back on your time in Happy Valley?
A: One word for it is remarkable. Going to UNR (University of Nevada, Reno) for my last year, it was hard because playing four years and seeing what we’ve been through at Penn State. It was hard for me to leave because we went through so much. A lot of it was undeserved. But for me, personally, it was all a part of my journey to go to UNR. Seeing how different other college football experiences are made me so grateful of the experience I had Penn State, to play at such a premier Division I program. Beaver Stadium, the level of competition, the national recognition — that made me appreciate Penn State.
Q: What play or moment do you remember most fondly at Penn State?
A: One of my favorite games was the Pinstripe. Even though it was a small bowl, it was a bowl we weren’t supposed to get. I think when Sam Ficken kicked that kick, that was my memorable moment. Seeing what Sam went through was remarkable. To make that kick, to win the game in that fashion, it was fun to run on the field and be back in the spotlight for Penn State.
Q: You mentioned transferring to Nevada, but your career was cut short by concussions. How difficult was it for you at that time to hang up the cleats?
A: Honestly, that was a very dark time in my life. The decision to not play was on my end instead of someone forcing me. I could’ve came back and played. I could’ve had a chance to play professionally in America. I definitely could’ve played back home in the CFL. It was hard because football meant so much to me. Playing the game the last 11 years of my life, it was literally the reason why I’m here now, because of the sport. At that time (during the injury), I lost my passion for it. In terms of where I wanted to go with my life, it felt like football was using me at this point, instead of me using it. ... Ever since then it’s been about creating new habits for a new chapter in my life.
Q: You joked during the Rose Bowl that Saquon Barkley was a reason why you transferred. That tweet — “Feed 26! I transferred for a reason” — kind of blew up with over 1,500 retweets. Did you expect that kind of reaction, and how serious were you with that tweet?
A: I’m not going to lie, being a fan of Penn State is really fun. I see it from a different perspective. Saquon’s like my little brother. We still have a really good relationship. I saw him at Blue-White weekend, and he told me that he appreciated everything I’ve done for him. I told him the Heisman is his and that I’m betting on him (laughs). Football-wise, he was the reason why I transferred. But it wasn’t out of hate or envy. If he’s really that good, you should probably give him the ball nine out of 10 times. He’s really that amazing. I think for me, seeing him do well makes me feel good because he deserves it. He’s also a very good kid. I knew Penn State was in great hands. At some point, you have to realize as a player in that situation is that the team doesn’t need your skill-set anymore. And that’s fine. It’s the process of how it goes. I was graduated. It was perfect timing. I’m thankful for my time at UNR because I’m able to get my master’s.
Q: Was there a moment when you first realized that Saquon was going to be a star?
A: It first hit me when he was the same size as me when he first walked in. Hold up, actually, no — his legs were the size of tree trunks. I was like, ‘Man. He’s a unique specimen.’ ... I knew my time at Penn State was done when he hurdled the guy against Buffalo. The funny thing is, he should’ve scored on that play. He just lost his footing; he slipped. He could’ve burned the other two behind him. I learned from Bill (Belton) and Zach (Zwinak), and they really helped me. When my time came, they supported me. So you know what, I was going to do the same for Saquon.