The Penn State Nittany Lions enter the 2014 season with the luxury of having a trio of talented running backs. Seniors Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been sharing carries for the past two seasons, while Akeel Lynch was thrown into the mix last year. Zwinak has led the team in carries over the past two years and says that having talented runners to push him is an advantage.
“It’s a huge advantage. I know they’re right there. I watch a lot of stuff that Bill does and Akeel too. We all watch each other and help learn and coach each other.”
Zwinak was thrown into action early on during the 2012 season when those in front of him, including Belton, all went down with an injury. He finished that season as the top rusher on the team with 1,000 yards on 203 carries and six touchdowns. Last year, Zwinak was once again the leader in the backfield with 989 yards and 12 touchdowns.
However, despite his success, Zwinak has competition right on his heels to take carries away.
After struggling with injuries in 2012, Belton bounced back last season. He carried the ball 157 times for 803 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
Lynch is the one with a lot of upside. After impressing the coaching staff in practice during his redshirt season in 2012, big things were expected of him last year. However, due to the success of Zwinak and Belton, Lynch’s touches were limited in 2013. He finished with 358 total rushing yards. 108 of those yards came in the second game of the year.
Zwinak is the favorite this season to again see the bulk of the carries. However, he knows that Lynch and Belton are right behind him and he’ll have to step up his game. “When you got a good guy there you want to beat him out and it helps push your game.”
Head coach James Franklin addressed having three talented running backs in his press conference on Monday. He noted how important it is to have several running backs available and how lucky the Nittany Lions are.
As for the trio currently competing for carries, Zwinak says it’s a friendly competition. “We realize we are competing, but at the end of the day we’re all friends.”