Bill Belton is Penn State's new starting running back

Posted: August 10, 2012

STATE COLLEGE — Silas Redd isn't here any more. Neither are his 1,200-plus rushing yards or seven touchdowns. For a team in transition, that's a bunch to overcome.

Welcome to Bill Belton's world.

The South Jersey native thought he was going to be a wide receiver again this season. New coach Bill O'Brien saw him for the first time and thought otherwise.

"Running backs have a certain look to them," he said. "They're muscular, they're built kind of low to the ground. We noticed that right away. So it was kind of a body type. And then, he went with the receivers and I said, ‘Where you going?' And he said, ‘Well, I'm a receiver.' No, you're a running back."

Now, since Redd is playing in Los Angeles for a team that can compete for the national championship, Belton's the starter.

"I love coach O'Brien," Belton said Thursday, where he was one of the obvious centers of attention. "Whatever decision he makes, I'm all for it."

Belton, who like a lot of his teammates has made some noticeable strides in the weight room under new director of strength and conditioning Craig Fitzgerald, will probably be asked to carry the ball 20-or-so times a game. O'Brien says Belton is up to it. As a freshman, Belton had 13 carries for 65 yards out of the Wildcat formation that was unveiled late in the season. As both a junior and senior at Winslow Township High School, he ran for over 1,000 yards while passing for more than 2,000. So he's nothing if not an athlete.

"He showed us he has really good feet," O'Brien explained. "He's got a unique ability to balance, put his hand on the ground and spin. He's done a much better job, knock on wood, the first 3 days [of practice] of ball security. He has really good hands out of the backfield. So I feel good about Billy. I think he's grown up in the last 6 or 7 months."

In this program, who hasn't?

"I grew up running the ball," said Belton, who stands 5-10 and is now listed at 202 pounds. "It's not something that's out of the ordinary for me. So it was an easy transition.

“[The Wildcat] was a fun experience. I definitely enjoyed it. It gave me a chance to get my feet wet, understand how the game moves [at this level], how fast it is … My dad put a football in my hand when I was young. I always wanted to be the guy who scored all the touchdowns and everything. It's a great opportunity for me, and us as a team, to show people what Penn State football's about."

He says his favorite running back is LeSean McCoy, because of his "shiftiness" and the fact that he "does a lot of things well." Belton will be operating in a new offense, behind a line that has to replace four starters. There's obviously other guys behind him on the depth chart, including promising freshman Akeel Lynch. So he won't be doing it alone. But if he stays healthy, he figures to be heavily involved.

"It's an opportunity to get better," said his position coach, Charles London. "The standard is the standard. There's a standard at Penn State at the running back position. We're not going to let it fall because one guy left. They all have to play to that standard.

“If somebody goes down, it's the next one up. It's [Belton's] turn."

Time to run with it.

"At the end of the day, it's football," Belton said. "That's what players do. If it wasn't me, it'd be somebody else. It's not a big deal. We'll all be ready.

“On Sept. 1, we should be physically and mentally prepared. It's going to be crazy. I would expect big things from us."

Individually, collectively.

Extra point

As expected, it was announced earlier this week that for the first time in forever there will be a uniform change. Players' names will be on the back of the jerseys, and blue ribbons will also be added to honor the victims of child abuse. It was Bill O'Brien's decision. But there isn't a guy on the team that doesn't support the moves.

"It's not anything selfish," said quarterback Matt McGloin. "Coach O'Brien wanted to let the world see what people stuck here, and why they stayed true to the program and stayed loyal. I think it's a great thing."

Added fullback Michael Zordich: "Even with all the history around here, we felt like the reasons behind it … we've gone through some really tough times. Nobody's ever gone through something like this here at Penn State. And coach wanted everyone to know the guys that stayed here. That means a lot to him. I have no problem with him making that decision. He talked to the team about it. We're all behind him on it."

He realizes that there will be those who won't be on board, for whatever reasons.

"Some won't like it," Zordich noted, "but you have to do what you have to do in this situation. It's not that normal a situation to be in. Any [motivational] inch you can gain, if that helps you out, you take it." n

Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

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