Can Belton Take It To The Next Level?

Penn State senior running back thinks he can if he is used "in the proper way."

Running back Bill Belton will be playing his last college football game when Penn State takes on Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York Dec. 27. But will it be his last football game, period?

Belton does not think so.

Though he has not had the sort of breakout senior season he envisioned for himself, with 518 yards on 122 carries, he believes he has a chance to make it in the NFL.

In doing so, he implied that his skill set has not been used effectively at Penn State since his freshman season of 2011.

“I don't think it's over for me,” Belton said over the weekend. “I think I need to get in the right situation where I'm used in the proper way. I think out of my whole career here, I've been doing what the coaches have asked me to do instead of what fits me and what I can do.

“That's why, in my opinion, certain things didn't go the way I assumed they would go,” he added. “If I get in the right situation, you'll see a totally different player.”

And what might that situation be?

“More in space,” Belton said. “I would love to go back to what I was doing my freshman year. It is what it is, though.”

Belton has indeed done whatever the Nittany Lion coaching staffs have asked of him during his PSU career.

Under Joe Paterno in 2011, Belton was a receiver and sometimes Wildcat quarterback. But the stats from his rookie campaign don't indicate any sort of salad days, as he carried 13 times for 65 yards and caught one pass for no yards.

When Bill O'Brien arrived in 2012, the 5-foot-10, 204-pound Belton was immediately moved to running back. After winning the starting job in the preseason, an ankle injury sustained in the opener bothered him for most of the year and he ended up carrying only 60 times for 263 yards.

He bounced back strong as a change-of-pace back to starter Zach Zwinak in 2012, rushing for 803 yards and adding 158 more through the air.

Shortly before Big Ten Media Days in Chicago last July, Belton tweeted that he intended to prove wrong all of the preseason prognosticators who failed to list him among the top backs in the conference.

But this season, the first under James Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan, brought more frustration. A rebuilt offensive line made things difficult for the entire offense. Despite starting 10 of 12 games so far, he has been limited to 518 yards on 122 carries -- and 92 of those yards came on one touchdown run (vs. Indiana).

While Belton did post a team-high seven touchdowns -- six rushing and one receiving -- in the second half of the season redshirt sophomore Akeel Lynch had significantly more carries (107 to 59) and yards (460 to 260). Belton had a total of seven carries in the last two games.

Belton refused to bite when asked if there was a level of disappointment with the way his season ended, and implied his playing time was limited because “I was nicked up a little bit.”

Running backs coach Charles Huff, meanwhile, talked about Lynch having “the hot hand.” But he also lauded Belton for supporting his teammate.

“One thing a lot of people don't see is that he's probably been Akeel's biggest fan and biggest mentor,” Huff said. “When [Akeel] comes off the field [Bill's] getting right to him. He brings things like, 'Hey, watch the safety blitz there.' He's handled it well. But that's a true sign of a mature, older guy that's been through a lot on and off the field here.”

Though Belton does not feel he's been used properly, that has never translated into hard feelings toward Zwinak or Lynch. In fact, when the injured Zwinak could not play on Senior Day against Michigan State due to an injury, Belton honored him by wearing his number.

And he's had nothing but good things to say about Lynch.

“I've always said I thought Akeel was a good running back,” Belton said. “He does a lot of things well. He going to have a bright future here and be one of the best backs that have come through here.”

In Belton's mind, speaking his mind now does not take away from the leadership qualities he tried to display the last couple of seasons.

“I'm proud of myself for doing things in meeting rooms and giving people the help they need on the field, a lot of stuff people don't see,” he said.

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