Bryce Effner heard the unusual sound two months ago and struggled to describe it for a while.
“We had a play (at Auburn) where I was going up (to block) the linebacker or someone,” Effner said. “Then there was this thing, like when you’re standing too close to a train station and the train goes by. It was right past my ear. Whoosh!
“I heard it and when I looked, Nick Singleton was already 10 yards (downfield). I tried to run after him. But I mean, it was like trying to chase after the sun, like going after the sunrise.”
Members of the Rutgers kickoff coverage team heard something similar Saturday when Singleton whizzed past all of them on a 100-yard kickoff return, which helped ignite Penn State’s 55-10 blowout win in Piscataway, N.J.
Singleton, the former Gov. Mifflin star and Berks County’s all-time leading rusher, has lived up to his billing as the nation’s top high school football player last year.
He leads the Nittany Lions in rushing with 863 yards, is sixth in the Big Ten with 78.5 yards per game and ranks 11th nationally with 6.54 yards per carry.
He has a chance to break Saquon Barkley’s school record for yards in a season (1.076) by a freshman with the regular season finale against Michigan State and a bowl game to go.
Singleton has accomplished much while sharing the load with classmate Kaytron Allen, who rushed for 117 yards and one touchdown against Rutgers.
With Allen’s performance raising his total to 748, they became the first pair of freshmen in Big Ten history to reach 700 rushing yards in the same season.
They have a shot to become the most productive pair of freshman backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision in this century and the most productive pair of backs in any class in Penn State history.
“We’ve really just scratched the surface with those two guys,” Lions coach James Franklin said, “which is obviously exciting.”
The two get along famously and feed off each other, according to Franklin and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider. Quarterback Sean Clifford said neither one is shy to ask him or offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich for more carries.
“Nick and Fatman (Allen) were on the sideline (at Rutgers) and they were both extremely angry because they kept on wanting the ball,” Clifford said. “They want the ball so badly. They’ll be on the field and will go, ‘Give me the rock.’
“It’s been a while since (he’s seen) that kind of energy. I appreciate that from both of them. I see them getting better and better. I can’t be prouder of them.”
Allen grew up in Norfolk, Va., and played three seasons at IMG Academy in Florida. He was a consensus four-star prospect who was rated a notch below Singleton. He’s dropped more than 20 pounds since he enrolled at Penn State in January when he was given his nickname.
With much attention focused on Singleton because of the national high school awards he received, Allen dedicated himself to improving his conditioning and speed. Clifford has called him the most improved player on the team during the calendar year.
With patience, vision and strength, he has run for nine touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
“It’s kind of like your butt is on fire when you have Kaytron back there,” said Effner, who has started the last four games at right tackle. “You come off the line as fast as you can because you know that’s gonna be right there waiting for that opportunity, for that gap to open.
“You have to come off the ball fast, get a good block and then just let him do his thing.”
Allen and Singleton complement each other perfectly. Calling them “Thunder” and “Lightning” might be appropriate.
Singleton has 10 runs of at least 20 yards, including a 26-yarder at Rutgers, and three 50-yarders. Perhaps more significantly, he’s become a better inside runner as the season has gone on.
“I’d say Nick’s vision has gotten incredibly better,” guard Sal Wormley said, “and so has his patience. He’s hitting the holes better instead of trying to force the play. I think that has increased tremendously.”
Singleton showed off his explosiveness during his kickoff return Saturday, bursting through a crease and getting one last block from none other than Allen. He was not touched on his way to only the third Penn State return of at least 100 yards since 1975.
He ranks second in the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 25.8 average, trailing only Indiana’s Jaylin Lucas.
“It definitely gave us a lot of energy,” wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley said. “We were all excited, pumped up. Nick just gave a boost to the offense and defense. I think it was a big moment in the game.”
Singleton and Allen have had a lot of big moments. Franklin and his coaches hope they have many more ahead of them for the Lions.
“We have two backs who are learning as the season goes on and still have a lot to learn,” Wormley said. “But their potential is extremely high.
“These guys are powerful. They run hard and low. They’re fighting for yardage no matter how the play turns out.”
Source: Berkshire mont
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