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Penn State Running Back Room Trying To ‘Elevate’ Ahead Of Upcoming Campaign

Nick Singleton never imagined he’d score an 87-yard touchdown at the Rose Bowl within a year of appearing on the scene in college football.

“That never crossed my mind. It was really crazy. Me scoring a touchdown just meant a lot,” he said.

That run, which gave Penn State a critical lead in the third quarter against No. 8 Utah, was the culmination of the impressive season that Singleton had put together. After Keyvone Lee had started the first four games of the season for Penn State, Singleton and fellow freshman running back Kaytron Allen took over the starting roles. The two haven’t looked back since.

The duo combined for 1,928 combined rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. They’ve established themselves as leaders in one of college football’s most hyped running back rooms entering the upcoming season.

But after a pair of strong freshmen seasons, the duo will have to avoid the sophomore slump that affects many young breakout stars, though Singleton doesn’t seem worried.

Singleton put up a 500-pound squat for five reps in March 2023. When he ran a 40-yard dash last spring, Singleton said that he clocked an impressive time of 4.39 seconds — .01 seconds faster than former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley’s time at the NFL Combine in 2018. Since then, Penn State’s strength and conditioning staff has been trying to improve those numbers.

“The whole strength staff throughout the spring and summer, they’ve been doing a good job with us. They have been getting us faster, stronger, bigger throughout the whole summer,” Singleton said. “I feel like I’m a lot stronger now, faster. I’m seeing the game more.”

The work that Singleton and Allen have put in during sessions in the weight room is showing. Singleton gained five pounds from his 219-pound listing on the 2022 roster, and Allen has bumped up an impressive 20 pounds, moving from 201 to 221 pounds.

Singleton and Allen had strong seasons in 2022, but running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider is focused on making them better. The sophomores relied on raw talent during the Rose Bowl campaign, but now Seider wants to add refined skill to perfect their games.

“We’re going to ask these guys to do a lot more. We’re going to ask them to be better than they were a year before,” Seider said. “They want it. They work hard at it.”

Seider isn’t alone in trying to help out his young running backs. He says that he’s connected the sophomores with Barkley, who offers advice on what he wishes he did better in college and how the running backs that are following in his footsteps can succeed in college football.

Seider’s players have more than a personal connection with Barkley. Singleton, and Allen alongside him, have the chance to build similar reputations at Penn State. Singleton ran for 1,061 yards his freshman season. Barkley ran for 1,076 yards in his first year. Both seasons that stand as No. 19 and No. 20 in the all-time Penn State single-season rushing yardage records. Singleton’s advantage? He recorded 12 touchdowns against Barkley’s seven while doing so in 26 fewer attempts.

Barkley isn’t the only veteran presence in the ear of the running back room. Penn State picked up a notable transfer from former Minnesota running back Trey Potts in the 2023 offseason, who spent four years with the Golden Gophers and is seeing out his final year of eligibility with the Nittany Lions.

“He’s an older guy, so he knows how to prep, and he knows how to take a younger room and help you develop there,” Seider said of Potts.

“Trey’s been really good ever since he stepped on campus. He brings a lot of competition,” Singleton said. “He’s just really a big brother, so he knows the system. He had been at Minnesota, so he knows that type of stuff. He’s just a really competitive person.”

Potts will have a hard time breaking into a running back room that’s already bursting with talent. If he adds nothing else, Potts is expected to add depth. James Franklin specifically singled out his running backs as a depth-filled position that’s impressed him thus far.

With a likely first-year starter at the quarterback position, the Nittany Lions may need that depth, at least to start the season. That depth is what Seider wants to use in his corps as he looks down the final stretch toward the season.

“To me, it’s going back to details, going back to basics from day one,” Seider said. “Footwork — let’s make it even cleaner where it should. If you take the [players’] number off, it shouldn’t look different in the game.”

Penn State has less than a month until it kicks off the 2023 season against West Virginia. From the start of fall camp until then, Seider is focused on making sure that his backs are better than when they started preparations.

“It’s all about elevation. We want to continue to elevate them every year to be even better than what they are this year,” Seider said.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and Onward State's managing editor. He covers Penn State football, among other Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. For dumb stuff, follow him on Twitter (iamjoelister). For serious stuff, email him ([email protected]).

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