Sometimes it is the most subtle, unlikely threads - literally - that tie a prospective recruit to a college.
Take the case of Akeel Lynch, for example.
Growing up in Toronto, Lynch used to spend Sundays going out with his father. When his dad passed away about 10 years ago, though, Lynch began to watch football on Sunday afternoons instead and took an interest in the sport. Then, during a shopping trip to the United States, Lynch's mother found young a football jacket for young Akeel.
It was a Penn State football jacket. And, from that, a connection was made.
"I had an admiration for Penn State since the day my mom bought me that varsity jacket,'' said Lynch, who, after looking up everything he could to learn about the college whose emblem was on the jacket, grew up to be a blue-chip running back at Buffalo's St. Francis High School. "When I got the chance to talk to them as a recruit, I was excited and definitely pumped to know that Penn State wanted me.''
Even though Lynch's relationship with the Nittany Lions has had its ups and downs over the last six months, the 6-foot, 204-pound Gatorade New York player of the year's path seemed to keep taking him back to University Park. After taking his official visit last week, Lynch, who goes by the nickname "Kidd Possible,'' verbally committed to the Nittany Lions and intends to sign a letter-of-intent with them on Wednesday.
Lynch's other top schools were Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Boston College. He was committed to BC for several months before larger programs started calling him after seeing the strong recovery he'd made from an injury that essentially cut his junior season in half.
Mike McQueary made the initial contact with Lynch for the Nittany Lions. When he went on an administrative leave of absence, Lynch's involvement with Penn State went on the backburner until Charles London and Bill Kavanaugh renewed it.
"After the situation with the whole [Jerry Sandusky] scandal, I backed away a little bit. But, always in my mind, I still wanted to see it. When they hired [Bill] O'Brien, I was excited that they contacted me,'' Lynch said. "Once I went there, I saw why Penn State's so special. The school itself is what I really liked the most. I believe that even if football would end for me there - which I hope it doesn't - I'll still be fine.''
There was little stopping Lynch as a senior. He ran for a league record 2,176 yards in finishing second to Clemson quarterback recruit Chad Kelly for Buffalo News player of the year. Against Aquinas and five-star defensive lineman Jarron Jones, Lynch rushed for 226 yards on 16 carries. In a win against Bishop Timon-St. Jude, he amassed a school-record 376 yards on the ground, scoring five touchdowns.
"It was 21-21 at the half, and, in the second half, he just broke open the game. It's funny, because he didn't even end up playing the whole game; we took him out a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter,'' Red Raiders coach Jerry Smith said. "He's got a third gear. Besides that, his vision is very good, he's a nice-sized kid who I can see at Penn State being a 215-to-220-pound back. He's only 17, so his upside is great.''
As a junior, Lynch rushed for 828 yards and 10 touchdowns in just six games before getting hurt. He played his sophomore and junior seasons in Canada, then moved to the U.S. in the hopes that a college program would take notice.
Lynch always has had a knack for making things happen. He picked up the nickname "Kidd Possible'' as a spinoff from the Disney Channel adventure cartoon about a teenage girl who can do anything she puts her mind to.
"Early in my high school career, I always played with older guys, and they used to call me 'The Kid.' Then, one of them started to call me 'Kidd Possible' because I had all these dreams of playing big-time college football,'' Lynch said. "I wanted to play professional football, and the best way was to get into a Division I school. That would be very difficult as a Canadian player, especially at a skill position. That drive led me.''
Lynch has been timed at just under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he runs the 100 and 200 meters in track. He says he's striving to be an all-around running back in the mold of the Houston Texans' Arian Foster who can do whatever his team needs to win.
The mental side of sports also appeals to Lynch and plays into another of his interests: reading.
"One book I find myself reading a lot is called 'Talent's Overrated.' It explains how people give too much credit to talent and don't realize all the hard work that goes into it,'' Lynch said. "I like to read a lot of books about how to be great or leadership.''
While the Sandusky scandal drove Lynch away for a time, he said, in the end, the way the school reacted to it is what sold him on Penn State.
"I wanted to look at how Penn State bounced back. Once you went there, it was like nothing had changed,'' Lynch said. "It shows you that what Joe Paterno built there was bigger than one man's action.''