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Nick Singleton matching Saquon Barkley in freshman season

Nick Singleton matching Saquon Barkley in freshman season
Nick Singleton rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in just the second collegiate game of his career. (Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (BVM) – Freshman running back Nick Singleton entered the Penn State football program as the highestrated running back recruit since Miles Sanders. The expectations, however, have been much different than the former Nittany Lions back.

While Sanders began his collegiate career backing up All-American Saquon Barkley, Singleton has come in as the team’s primary workhouse, taking over the title of the next great Penn State running back. With all eyes focused on the Nittany Lions freshman to see if he can take over the Barkley mantle, the early returns so far have been as promised.

“I think right now, Nick is handling things pretty well,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said of Singleton’s evolution given the added attention he’s received. “I also think that is a little bit his personality. The players kind of give him a hard time because after he scores a touchdown they say he has no swag. No swag, all substance.

“They love 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. He’s very steady Eddie, very level-headed. He doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low.”

Nick Singleton Nittany Lions
Penn State Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton (10) runs the ball as Auburn Tigers take on Penn State Nittany Lions at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Credit: Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK)

The connections between the past and present Penn State running backs have been easy to make. The two both measured in around 6-foot, 220 pounds their freshman year and Barkley even presented Singleton his national Gatorade Player of the Year award his senior high school season. Measurables alone, matching Barkley’s impact on the field, specifically early on, is the real test for Singleton. 

In Barkley’s first season, the Freshman of the Year racked up 1,076 yards on the ground after receiving just one carry, for one yard, in the first game of the 2015 campaign. The following 10 games would create one of the most spectacular opening seasons for a Nittany Lions player in program history as Barkley put together two games of over 190 yards in just a threegame span.

The key difference early on between the two running backs has been their team’s success. Barkley’s Penn State team in 2015 got off to a middling start and finished 7-6 following four straight losses to end the season. Singleton so far has his team out to a perfect 5-0 start, in part due to two 100-yard rushing efforts. The current Penn State running back started to create the early comparison following his 179-yard rushing performance against Ohio which included two scores. With 124 rushing yards against Auburn the following game, things have begun to get interesting.

Through five games, Barkley’s freshman season is still outpacing Singleton by nearly 100 yards. But a few more major performances from the Shillington native could put him right back on track as Singleton has more than enough time to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the season. Regardless, the breakout campaign has created some real hype moving forward. 

“In years past, when the read would be cloudy, and you’d want to bounce it, we didn’t always have the speed to get to the edge like [Singleton] does,” Franklin said following his effort against Ohio. “He’s shown the ability to do that. A run that may typically be three to four yards has a chance to be 80 with him.

“I do think it has an impact, not just on the rushing stats but I think it has an impact on defensive coordinators. When they know if they’re not in their gap or they make a mistake that there’s a back on the other side that can go 80 yards at any point. There’s a lot of value in that and I think it affects how people call a defense.”

With conference play kicking off, Penn State will likely rely heavily on the rushing attack with matchups lined up against Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State coming in the next three games. The primetime meetings could set the stage for the freshman to find himself on an even bigger platform as he aims for a historic season. 

With work to be done, Singleton and running back partner Kaytron Allen are hoping they can reach the same levels as Barkley-Sanders once did.