What's next for Penn State's Nick Singleton? 'He wants to be the best of all-time.'
The wonder of Nick Singleton has flashed in brief, dramatic moments.
For all of his early accolades, Penn State's running back has still played only a sliver of a true freshman college season. He's carried the ball only 30 times. He's caught just one pass.
He's run the ball mostly from basic formations. He's not had much opportunity to work on his pass blocking.
He won't turn 19 for five more months.
And yet the national praise is beginning to pour in as he blasts one breakaway run after another.
Just how good will he be?
"He's so young and ... and the game’s only going to get slower for him," said Dane Miller, who trains Singleton at his Garage Strength gym near Reading. "So it might look even easier for him in (a few) weeks. I think they'll start running him more inside, get more fancy with formations.
Miller, a former Penn State track and field thrower, paused for a few moments.
"This kid is not wired to be normal. A normal person would be estatic and almost complacent (after beating Auburn), that, 'I'm that good. Look at what I just did?' With Nick, his past doesn’t define his future, as good as his past is."
His Penn State begining is unprecedented, by rookie running back standards. No tailback has owned a better three-game college start in school history.
Singleton leads the nation in runs of 40-plus yards (five) and in average yards per carry (11.1). He's already been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice.
And to think he was one nearly broken tackle away from running his first college carry 96 yards for a touchdown at Purdue. (He gained 9 on the play).
No Penn State running back, of any age, has owned a more productive start to a season since Heisman Trophy candidate Larry Johnson 20 years ago. And Johnson benefited from 20 more carries.
Of course, Singleton is still learning the details of the college game, despite being phsyically prepared when he arrived in January. He may well be college football's strongest true freshman, pound for pound.
So far, his dramatic speed has carried him to long touchdown runs against Ohio University and Auburn. His running game skills, overall, should season quickly with experience.
He's also driven to be a top-grade blocker and receiver, Miller said − wanting to match the skills of junior running backs Keyvone Lee and Devyn Ford.
Singleton's already being compared to recent Nittany Lion great Saquon Barkley, whose own impressive rookie season in 2015 was hampered by nagging injuries and a four-game losing streak. Barkley followed that with marked strength and speed improvements after his first full season of college training.
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Will Singleton be even better as a rookie?
Head coach James Franklin said he's never been around two more advanced true freshmen running backs, which includes teammate Kaytron Allen.
"The players kind of give (Singleton) a hard time because after he scores a touchdown (they) say he has no swag. No swag, all substance. ... They like to give him a hard time but it doesn’t phase him. We've been counting. I think he’s said 17 words since he’s been at Penn State. Very steady-Eddie, very level-headed. Doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low."
He pairs well with Allen, who has displayed impressive vision, patience and cut-back ability on inside runs.
The two now look to gain crucial experience against big underdogs Central Michigan and Northwestern.
A bye follows that.
Then the toughest test yet at Michigan.
These first five weeks of the season, of his career, "isn't the stuff that’s going to matter the most to Nick," Miller said. "It's going to come out in the Michigan game. Going into the Big House, that's where we might see something crazy."
One more step, his trainer said, to how "he wants to be the best of all-time."
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.