What makes future Penn State Nittany Lion RB Nick Singleton so special?
The Penn State Nittany Lion Class of 2022 has its fair share of special athletes, but running back Nick Singleton may just be the most special of them all.
Since his freshman season at Governor Mifflin, Singleton has grabbed the attention of just about everyone who follows high school football in Pennsylvania, and it's easy to see why. Following another 200-plus yard performance this past Friday against arguably the best opponent in his conference, Exeter Township, the future Nittany Lion surpassed more than 5,500 yards rushing over the course of his career. He's also just two shy of reaching 100 career rushing touchdowns. Not bad.
Through six games this season, Singleton is up to 1,264 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns, and with Governor Mifflin looking like the team to beat in Pennsylvania's 5A division, he could end up ranking among the best ever in the state in a few categories by the time it's all said and done.
But if you asked Singleton about that, he'd tell you that all he cares about is winning a state championship this season before he enrolls early at Penn State in January. James Franklin would be proud. His family and teammates should be, too.
To get a better feel for what makes Singleton one of the nation's best running backs, I caught up with his coach, Jeff Lang, who's been watching Singleton play since he was in little league. Lang explained that it's far from just his physical attributes that have put Singleton in the position he's in today.
Ryan Snyder: I’ll start with this: When I was watching Nick on the sideline Friday night, I noticed that he’s incredibly locked in during games. You guys were up three scores and he was as locked in come the fourth quarter as he was during the opening kickoff. Even when some of his teammates kind of relaxed a bit , I saw him grab one of them and bring him back to the sideline to focus on the game. How special of a leader is Nick? I rarely see players that focused when a team is up big like you guys were.
Jeff Lang: He’s always like that. I’ve known Nick for ages. He’s the same age as my son, so they played little league together. I’ve been able to see him play just about every football game he’s ever played. He’s always been such a fierce competitor. I’ve had him upset with me in the past because I’ll take him out to get other players in when we’re up big. He wants to be in there and competing no matter what the scoreboard says, no matter how much time is left.
He’s very demanding of his teammates, too. He’s always making sure that they’re keyed in. He knows that we all have the same goal in mind, so he does a great job of making sure his teammates are always focused. He has tons of friends, yucks it up in the locker room and is buddies with every one of those guys. Then, when we get on the field, he expects every one of them to perform at their best and never lose focus of what we’re trying to accomplish here. That’s just the kind of kid he is and the kind of leader that he is. People ask me all the time: what kind of kid is he off the field? I tell them that he’s incredibly mature and goal-oriented. He has incredibly high expectations of his team and himself, and it really carries throughout our locker room.
Snyder: So, you’ve been coaching him for awhile. Are there any moments early on in Nick’s career that you realized he’s going to become the kind of player and person he’s become? Any stories or moments you can think of?
Lang: There was a game his [freshman] season. We were playing Manheim Central in the District III playoffs, I believe. We were getting hammered by them in the first half and I remember Nick in the locker room just being incredibly positive, uplifting his teammates. He was really getting his teammates motivated to go out there and give it everything with our season on the line. He also was telling me, ‘Coach, give me the ball. Let me take it.’ The first play we ran then, we pitch him the ball and he takes it like 70 yards and we get a touchdown out of it. Now, we didn’t end up winning that game or anything, but his attitude and his leadership, even when he was still pretty young, really showed that day. He gave us a spark to continue battling, and that’s just something I’ll never forget. He’s just always the kind of guy who’s picking everyone up. He’s always finding ways to be positive and focused on what’s ahead for us.
Snyder: Physically, Nick is ahead of really any running back I’ve ever seen. What’s he like in training with you guys?
Lang: Well, first off, we have two incredible strength coaches. Chris Vecchio and Brandon Orndorff are Phys Ed teachers and weight room guys at our school and they’re just great. I couldn’t mold better strength guys for our team. They’re great mentors and role models for our kids. Nick responds to them so well. He really gets after it and puts in the extra time, and that’s been the case from day one. Even during our season and on a game week, he’s in there pushing himself. Just this past Thursday, the day before our game, he took one of the freshmen with him in there and was helping him, showing him what to do and working out with him. I thought that was pretty neat. So, that’s just the way he’s always been. He’s been a workout, gym rat his whole life. Ever since I’ve known him.
Of course, his dad took him up to Garage Strength, which is ran by Dane Miller, early on. I’m sure fans have seen some of the workout videos [Miller has] done with Nick. He was going there in middle school, and of course, at that age, they weren’t going crazy or anything like that, but he was already learning how to workout and help himself pretty early. I think that’s done a lot for Nick. I always think, ‘when is Nick going to reach his peak? When is he going to level out?’ That son of a gun just keeps getting better every single year. It’s just incredible how high his ceiling is. I thought this year we’d maybe see him level out a bit after an incredible season last year, but nope, he’s significantly better now than last year.
Snyder: On the field, what are his strengths? What are those two or three things that really separate him?
Lang: It has to be his speed and strength. He’s five to 10 pounds bigger this year and substantially more powerful. He just runs through tackles, game in and game out. When you get him on the edge, you need two or three guys on him because once he gets up to speed, he’s just running through tackles all the time. If he gets into the open field, he’s pulling away from people.
One of the things college coaches were really high on Nick was his speed. I remember talking with the running backs coach from Ohio State about Nick one day. I remember him saying that Nick’s most impressive play on his film had nothing to do with him running the ball. We were playing Daniel Boone, I believe, his sophomore year in a back-and-forth kind of game. We were going down to score and threw a pick in the end zone. On the first play of scrimmage coming back, Nick is on the opposite side of the field playing defense and Boone throws the ball, the kid breaks a tackle, and takes off down the sideline. Nick comes from the other sideline and catches this kid around the 10-yard line and it ends up being huge for us because, defensively, we held them on fourth down. We end up going down the field again and scoring then. But to catch a kid from the opposite sideline is one of those plays where it really showed how well he can move. He’s not a small kid either. His hustle and determination on that one play is what kept them from scoring and it really had a big impact on our team and the game.
A couple other things I’ll add is that his hands are really good. We don’t really throw the ball much. I believe he has three receptions on the year, which is probably like half of our attempts. That’s something people don’t see from him much because of our scheme, but he’s fine with catching the ball and making plays in space afterwards. So, he has great hands out of the backfield and also blocking-wise, he’s experienced there, too. He’s a very unselfish football player. He gets in there and opens things up for his teammate. We’ll run a quarterback power with him being the lead blocker and he’ll double-team with the tackle and then rip off to the linebacker. He’s great with all of that.
Snyder: Is there an area or two he can still improve? When you guys are watching film after games, what do you guys talk about?
Lang: Well, every guy can always get better. There are always little situations where you go back and realize he needed to cut it up or block a guy out instead of in or whatever it may be. You’ll never play every play perfectly, but fundamentally and physically and all of that, there’s not really much that I can think of. There isn’t one area I can really pinpoint and say this could be a weakness in college, and that’s what makes him special. He’s incredibly well-rounded.
Snyder: Any idea what his weight lifting numbers are? Do you remember what he did during testing?
Lang: I don’t have the specific numbers on me, but when he was training in the offseason and we were pushing ourselves, I know he’s gotten over 400 on the bench press. He’s been power cleaning in the upper 300s. I believe it’s around 360 or 370, something like that. I wish I had his exact numbers for you. I know his squat is well over 500 pounds, so he’s incredibly strong for his age. There are videos of him out there doing one-legged squats at like 185 pounds. That helps him so much with balance and really everything. He works incredibly hard all year long.
Snyder: Do you think he can contribute early in college?
Lang: Yeah, I do. This kid is so strong and so fast. The tools are all there. On top of that, he’s going to get the opportunity to get there early. He will be enrolling in January, so he’s going to be there with them an entire semester. You know the guys there, coaches and players, are going to be sitting down with him and getting him up to speed on their offense. He’s not going to go in there and run some complicated, high-end offense that takes years to master. He won’t know everything there is to know, but I’m sure coach can find ways to rep him in on some of their more basic plays. Whether it’s basic running plays or needing him to block or run routes, he can do all of that, so it’s hard for me to not see him contributing next fall.
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