Success is just starting for Penn State's Belton

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2013 - 6:33 AM

Penn State running back Bill Belton is starting to look as if his transition from receiver is complete.


Penn State running back Bill Belton (1) celebrates in the end zone after scoring past Michigan safety Jarrod Wilson (22) to seal a 43-40 win over Michigan in the fourth overtime period of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. It was the first loss of the season for Michigan.

Photo: Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press - Ap

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Bill Belton does not feel as if he has arrived.

This in itself might explain how the Penn State junior — who began his college career as a receiver, was moved to running back almost immediately and has won, lost and won back the starting job — is where he is today.

Because he sees this as a beginning, not an end.

The Nittany Lions will play the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday, looking to improve on their 5-3 record. Belton was named the Big Ten’s co-offensive player of the week after rushing for 201 yards on 36 carries Saturday in an overtime victory over Illinois. Belton, in becoming the first Penn State player since 2002 to rush for 200 yards, was not tackled a for loss in the game, using his strength to run up the middle, his quickness on countless cutbacks.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “But it’s not over yet. It’s basically just the beginning, and there’s still a lot more football left. So I have to stay focused on that.”

If this is the beginning, it was a long one. In 2012, Penn State’s new coach, Bill O’Brien, looked at the 5-10, 205-pound Belton — a dual-threat quarterback at Winslow Township (N.J.) High School — and decided he should be a running back. But Belton injured an ankle in Penn State’s first game that season. He struggled, ultimately losing the starting job to Zach Zwinak. Then, over the summer, Belton had to work to become academically eligible for the start of preseason camp.

This season he began as a backup. But Zwinak’s problem with fumbles, coupled with Belton’s improved play, changed things. After running for the winning touchdown in a four-overtime victory over Michigan on Oct. 12, Belton was moved to the top of the depth chart. A week later, against Ohio State, he ran 22 times for 98 yards. Then, against Illinois, Belton basically blew up. For the season, Belton has rushed 128 times for 668 yards, a 5.2-yard average, and four TDs.

“I think it takes a while,” O’Brien said. “We moved him from receiver to running back when he got here. I don’t think that’s the easiest transition. Then he was injured last year, had the bad high ankle sprain, and never totally came back from that. Now he’s healthy. He’s had a year in the system. He’s doing better off the field, which helps his mindset on the field. It’s encouraging. We feel good about that young man.”

A stronger running game has provided Penn State better offensive balance, taking some of the pressure off 18-year-old freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. To take another step in the post-Joe Paterno era, the Nittany Lions have to prove they can win on the road. Penn State opened the season with a neutral-site victory over Syracuse at East Rutherford, N.J. Since then, the Lions are 4-1 at home but 0-2 on the road, losing 44-24 at Indiana and 63-14 at Ohio State.

Against the Gophers, Penn State will need to establish the run. And that starts with Belton.

“He’s had a couple big games as of late, and they’re not a one-dimensional team at all,” Gophers cornerback Brock Vereen said. “So it’s going to be a situation where the D-line, linebackers and secondary all have to come to play, if we expect to stop them.”

Belton, meanwhile, never really felt he would be stopped.

“I never doubted myself, even when things hit the wall,” he said. “I always had belief in myself. And my parents always told me to keep that about me, and I did. So everything worked out.”

Staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this report.

  • related content

  • Nelson, Engel expected to play vs. Penn State

    Thursday November 7, 2013

    Quarterback Philip Nelson and receiver Derrick Engel connected for two touchdowns in last week’s victory at Indiana, but were both injured.

  • Kill's return to sidelines might not be far off

    Thursday November 7, 2013

    Kill says he could show up on field "if needed.'' With what's at stake vs. Penn State, that could be second half on Saturday.

  • 2013 Big Ten football standings

    Wednesday November 6, 2013

  • Penn State’s Bill Belton (1) had a breakthrough game against Illinois last week, rushing 36 times for 201 yards and a touchdown in the Nittany Lions’ 24-17 overtime victory.

  • Gophers vs. Penn State

    11 a.m. Saturday • TCF Bank Stadium • TV: ESPN2 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Cleveland - T. Bauer 12:08 PM
Detroit - A. Simon
Chicago Cubs - J. Arrieta 12:10 PM
Cincinnati - A. DeSclafani
Kansas City - E. Volquez 1:10 PM
Chicago WSox - J. Danks
Houston - S. Feldman 3:05 PM
Oakland - K. Graveman
NY Mets - M. Harvey 3:05 PM
NY Yankees - C. Sabathia
Washington - S. Strasburg 3:10 PM
Miami - T. Koehler
Toronto - D. Norris 5:10 PM
Tampa Bay - E. Ramirez
Atlanta - S. Miller 6:05 PM
Philadelphia - D. Buchanan
Boston - J. Masterson 6:05 PM
Baltimore - W. Chen
St. Louis - A. Wainwright 6:10 PM
Milwaukee - W. Peralta
Pittsburgh - A. Burnett 7:10 PM
Arizona - R. De La Rosa
San Francisco - T. Hudson 7:10 PM
Colorado - J. De La Rosa
Los Angeles - B. McCarthy 7:40 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Texas - C. Lewis 8:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Wilson
Minnesota - T. May 8:10 PM
Seattle - J. Paxton
Atlanta 2:00 PM
Chicago 4:30 PM
Golden State 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Memphis 9:30 PM
Washington 2:00 PM
NY Islanders
Detroit 5:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Nashville 7:00 PM
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Real Salt Lake 6:30 PM
New England
Sporting Kansas City 7:30 PM
D.C. 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC


question of the day

Poll: Who has been the Wild's best player in the playoffs?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters