- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
"He said, 'It's your time now. You've got to move forward and prepare yourself for the big games coming up this year,'" Belton recalled.
Belton has done just that.
Football is a game of opportunity, whether it comes by virtue of injury, academic missteps or, in Penn State's case, historic NCAA sanctions that prompted a wave of transfers. Redd, a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2011, was among those to depart Happy Valley, leaving Penn State with a sizable void in the backfield.
Belton is working to fill it for the 2012 season. Despite little experience as a primary running back, Belton locked up the starting job in preseason camp.
"He's definitely cemented himself as a starter at this point," coach Bill O'Brien said last week. "Other guys will play, but Billy will start the game. ... Billy's a good football player."
After playing wide receiver and some Wildcat quarterback as a true freshman in 2011, Belton transitioned to running back this spring. Little did he know how much his move would mean. Redd's departure, along with the losses of Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum, leave Penn State without a back who recorded more than 50 carries in 2011. Curtis Dukes, who missed spring practice because of academic issues, logged 41 carries for 237 yards last fall. Penn State's next-most-productive ball-carrier? Belton, with 13 carries for 65 yards, many as the speedy triggerman for the Wildcat offense.
Regardless of his inexperience as a primary running back -- Belton played quarterback for Winslow Township High School in Atco, N.J. -- he impressed O'Brien this spring and continued to do so after Redd's departure July 31.
"Sy was big here," Belton said of Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns last fall. "Silas is a great friend of mine and I wish him the best of luck. But I'm definitely ready for the opportunity moving forward."
Belton prepared himself in the weight room this summer with new strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. Running backs coach Charles London told Belton about the physical toll pass protection takes on running backs. Like Redd, who transformed his body between the 2010 and 2011 seasons to take the pounding, Belton "leaned up" and added muscle mass.
Although he actually was a bit heavier in 2011 and hopes to play around 203 pounds this season, Belton is confident in his progress.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life right now," he said.
Penn State will lean on Belton for carries behind a potentially improved offensive line, but the sophomore's versatility could be his biggest asset for the offense. The receiver position returns almost no experience, and while Belton recorded only one reception in 2011, he can help the passing game.
"That adds a dimension to the game," Belton said. "You've got to account for the backs, too."
O'Brien said Belton recorded an 80-yard touchdown run in a scrimmage early in camp and has improved his pass protection. Asked how many carries he can handle, Belton said as many as the coaches give him.
"You strive to be the best," he said. "That's basically what I’m trying to do this year. I'm definitely looking forward to September 1st "