Matt Bauer coached high school football for nearly 25 years and never saw a running back like Nick Singleton.
“I would say he’s the best I’ve seen,” said longtime Exeter manager Bauer. “Absolutely. He’s definitely a cut above the rest.
Now a 6-0, 219-pound freshman at Penn State, Singleton rushed for 2,059 yards last fall, scored 44 touchdowns and led Governor Mifflin to a 10-1 record, the league title. Section 1 of the Berks Football League and the District 3 Class 5A final.
Unsurprisingly, he was selected as one of five male finalists for the reading eagle Athlete of the Year Award.
Singleton was named the 2021 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and the Maxwell Football Club National High School Offensive Player of the Year, unprecedented honors for a Berks athlete.
Four veteran Berks head coaches who faced Gov. Mifflin and Singleton discussed what they think made him the county’s career leader and how they tried to slow him down.
“Nick spent a lot of time with Dane Miller and Garage Strength,” Berks Catholic coach Rick Keeley said of the Maidencreek Township Gym. “With the work ethic he has, it has made him bigger and stronger. Because of his off-season work, he has reaped the rewards during the season.
“When they (the Mustangs) gave him the ball he had great speed to outrun everyone on the outside and he was optimistic enough to run down the middle that he could also hurt you there and break tackles .”
Two years ago, Singleton carried 14 times for 186 yards and three scores in a 62-7 win over Berks Catholic. Last year, Keeley and his assistant coaches came up with a game plan that they hoped would be more effective.
The Saints stayed within two touchdowns in the first half before Mifflin secured a 42-13 victory. Singleton rushed 16 times for 108 yards and three touchdowns, but Aidan Gallen gained 213 yards and scored twice with all the attention the Saints gave his running mate.
“We knew if we were going to have a chance to beat them, Nick was the guy we had to stop,” Keeley said. “Whichever way it walked first, we wanted our entire secondary to ride that way. They were going to get him. It worked pretty well for us (for a while).
“Once they set up the quickest fullback (Gallen) he rushed over 200 yards. We really didn’t want Nick to be the one who was going to beat us. We wanted them to move on and they did.
Against Muhlenberg, Singleton gained at least 124 yards in each of four lopsided wins and scored 13 touchdowns. John Lorchak, who has coached football for three decades, has been with the Muhls for the past two seasons. He ranks Singleton among the best running backs he has seen and as talented as any of them.
“Nick has a rare combination of speed, size, strength, explosiveness and fair athleticism,” Lorchak said. “He definitely has all the tools as a ball carrier, but he also has the ability to catch the ball.
“You’re going to have to pick the top seven or eight to focus on stopping him. In the playoffs, teams were doing that and he was always breaking tackles left and right. He has the ability to get through defenders, even if there are two that hit him simultaneously.
Wilson’s Bauer and Doug Dahms are two coaches who found ways to beat Mifflin and contain Singleton.
Against Exeter, Singleton rushed for 248 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-14 win two years ago and again for 248 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-21 rout last year.
Several weeks later, however, in the District 3 Class 5A title game, the Eagles held it to 40 yards on eight carries and a reception for a 51-yard TD in a stunning 31-28 triumph. Exeter kept the ball away from Singleton and Mifflin’s attack and controlled the clock by going for 238 yards and passing for 158.
“The thing that’s so hard to prepare for is his speed and his explosiveness,” said Bauer, who coached Singleton five times. “There’s really no way to simulate that in training, especially when you only have (only) a week to do it. What kid do you have that could even come close to that speed?
“If you miss a tackle and it gets to the second tier, no one catches it. He left. We thought the best way to give ourselves a chance was to keep him off the pitch as much as possible.
Wilson slowed Singleton in his first two games against him, two decisive wins for the Bulldogs in 2018-19. But Singleton has led the Mustangs to blowout wins the past two years over Wilson, rushing for 297 yards and seven touchdowns.
“The key against someone like that is not letting him out,” Dahms said. “It’s his bread and butter, using his speed. We obviously didn’t do a very good job. Their fullback (Trey Rock) hurt us too. If you focus on one, someone d other gets in the way.
“He has a great combination of speed and power. What he wasn’t was a cutter. It’s something he’s going to have to learn to do at the next level. He’s going to have to deal with a lot of speed and power. I’m sure he will learn to do it.
All four coaches praised Singleton for the way he conducted himself during his high school years and for his commitment to the game.
“He has a lot of natural ability and a great work ethic,” Dahms said. “I don’t think his head got too big. Some children who have this kind of ability, their heads get in the way.
“From all of my dealings with him, I found him to be very down to earth and very team oriented. He was the hardest worker in the weight room for their team. was the difference.
Mifflin coach Jeff Lang called Singleton “the complete package” as a running back and “just an average Joe” because he’s so grounded. He was a five-star prospect who ranked the No. 1 high school in the nation and chose Penn State over Notre Dame, Alabama, Wisconsin and Texas A&M, among others.
His parents, Timmy and Nichole, described him as a homebody who loves being around his three siblings and other relatives.
“Nick is a great boy who comes from a great family,” Bauer said, “He was always very respectful. You could tell he was brought up the right way.