There were high hopes for Nicholas Singleton entering his true freshman season. Fresh off being awarded as the Gatorade National Player of the Year and named as one of the top-ranked overall recruits in the 2022 class, Singleton was a blue-chip prospect with sky high potential.
He flashed that potential immediatley.
Singleton received his first carry early in Penn State’s week one victory against Purdue. He took his first carry straight up the get, gaining nine yards before being brought down. It wasn’t his longest or flashiest run, but it left a strong impression of what was to come. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with the immediate thought of “Well I haven’t seen a Penn State running back hit a hole like that in a while.”
He finished week one with a modest 31 yards on the ground as the Nittany Lions escaped Purdue with a victory. However, Singleton would step squarely in the spotlight the following week, exploding for 179 rushing yards against Ohio, with two long touchdown runs. Week three saw him go off for 124 yards and another two scores at Auburn. It was clear the Nittany Lions had something special brewing with Singleton in the backfield.
Despite the fast start, Singleton still showed sharp improvement in his first year with the Nittany Lions. Like most running backs who make it at this level, Singleton had the natural ability to regularly outrun defenders at the lower levels. However, that blessing often becomes a curse for freshman running backs, as their home run ability becomes neutralized by the speed of the defense. At first, Singleton seemed to take every handoff standing straight upright looking to race into the end zone. This often resulted in him being brought down close to the yard of scrimmage. He quickly learned the nuances of the position, running lower to the ground and using his vision to avoid tacklers.
The turning point seemed to come against Minnesota during the sevents game of the season. Singleton looked like a veteran back, oftentimes picking up tough yardage while eluding tacklers without just flat out outracing them. He finished the game on 79 yards on just 13 carries with two touchdowns as Penn State blew past the Gophers 45-17.
He would reach the century mark again a few weeks later as Penn State shut out Maryland 30-0. Both of his touchdowns came on fourth downs, as the Terps prepared to stop the obvious “Bush Push” with Penn State in its Wing-T formation. Instead, Singleton took a pitch to the outside and smoothly made his way to the Beaver Stadium end zone.
Singleton had his first game with at least three receptions in the regular season finale against Michigan State, including his first score through the air. It was a gradual process, but Singleton showed his comfort level coming out of the backfield, which should add a terrifying wrinkle for Big Ten defenses in 2023. He finished with 108 yards from scrimmage against the Spartans as Penn State won 35-16 to earn its 10th victory of the season and a spot in the Rose Bowl.
The Rose Bowl performance only cemented what had turned into an exceptional freshman season for Singleton. Let’s first take a moment to appreciate this beauty of a run:
Singleton’s 87-yard touchdown scamper was the third-longest in Rose Bowl history, helping Penn State pull ahead for good as they ultimately left Pasadena with a commanding 35-21 victory over Utah, the back-to-back PAC 12 champs. Singleton made a name for himself for those far outside of State College that evening, with an eye-popping statline of 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only seven carries.
Prior to the Rose Bowl, Singleton was awarded as the Big Ten Offesnive Freshman of the Year, second-team All-Big Ten kick returner, and third-team running back. That trophy collection is sure to expand as Singleton prepares to enter his true sophomore as one of the nation’s top running backs.