Penn State's Belton comfortable with move from receiver to running back

Penn State's Bill Belton is no stranger to running the ball, which he did playing QB at Winslow Twp.
Penn State's Bill Belton is no stranger to running the ball, which he did playing QB at Winslow Twp. (GENE J. PUSKAR / Associated Press)
Posted: August 10, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Bill Belton did not look like a guy on the hot seat as he quietly answered questions Thursday at Beaver Stadium about being Penn State's new No. 1 tailback.

But considering all 22 starters on offense and defense, Belton is the guy with the most pressure on him. He has been thrust into the starter's role in place of Silas Redd, who transferred last week to Southern California after rushing for 1,241 yards - No. 10 on the Nittany Lions' all-time single-season list - in 2011.

Asked how he felt about moving to a key role, Belton, a native of Sicklerville, who called Redd "a great friend," echoed what running backs coach Charles London told him.

"Coach London says, 'It's next man up,' and I'm ready to go," Belton said. "The pressure is kind of a media thing. I've played football all my life. I love playing football, so there's no pressure on me at all."

Another interesting aspect of Belton's promotion is the fact that he was moved from wide receiver to tailback before spring practice. He did gain experience running the football while playing quarterback at Winslow Township High, where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards (and passed for more than 2,000) in each of his final two seasons.

"It wasn't that big of a switch," he said. "Just making the transition was very easy. During my childhood, I grew up playing running back, so running the ball wasn't something out of the ordinary for me. It was an easy transition."

Belton received much game experience late last season, when he rushed 13 times in the Wildcat formation in the Lions' final three games, gaining 65 yards.

"It was a fun experience," he said of the Wildcat. "I definitely enjoyed it. It gave me a chance to get my feet wet and understand how the game moves, how fast it is, and I'm definitely looking forward to Sept. 1," the Nittany Lions' season opener against Ohio.

Bill O'Brien noticed Belton right away. After leading one of his first team meetings as the new head coach, O'Brien watched as Belton filed in to his position meeting with the wide receivers.

"I said, 'Where are you going?' " O'Brien recalled Thursday. "He said, 'I'm a receiver.' And I said, 'No, you're a running back.' "

O'Brien based his evaluation on Belton's size - 5-foot-11, 202 pounds. He said most running backs "are about 5-11. They're muscular. They're built kind of low to the ground. You notice that right away. It's kind of a body type."

And from what he has seen of Belton so far, he feels he's at the right position.

"He has really good feet," O'Brien said. "He's got a unique ability to be able to balance, put his hand on the ground and balance himself and spin. He's done a much better job, knock on wood, in the first three days [of training camp] with ball security. He has really good hands out of the backfield. So I feel very good about Billy. I think that he's grown up in the last six or seven months."

O'Brien said Belton will be able to carry the ball 20 to 25 times because of the Nittany Lions' new strength and conditioning program under coach Craig Fitzgerald.

Belton, who said he never considered transferring after the NCAA sanctions were announced on July 23, tabbed the Eagles' LeSean McCoy as his favorite running back because of his style. He said he likes to "pick up little tips and things like that" when he watches him.

Belton said his father put a football in his hand when he was little, and he was hooked on the sport. He loves the move to running back.

"As a kid growing up, you always want to be the big guy and be the star, score all the touchdowns and everything," he said. "But basically it's a dream come true, and I'm just happy to be here."


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