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Penn State Football: 'Bullet Bill' Belton is Ammo for Billy Ball's Backfield

on May 08, 2012 4:28 PM

Penn State’s backfield has a high-caliber addition:

“Bullet Bill” Belton.

He’s the latest such weapon in the Keystone State to make that name for himself.

First, there was “Bullet Bill” Dudley, a versatile Hall of Fame player for three NFL teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He excelled as a tailback during his nine-year pro career, which was interrupted by World War II, but he also was a decent pass catcher, defensive back, punter and kicker.

Decades later, now there’s Nittany Lion sophomore “Bullet Bill” Belton.

In his brief time at Penn State, Belton has played about half as many positions as Dudley – shifting from wide receiver to the quarterback spot in the wildcat formation and most recently to tailback.

Without question, Belton was one of the biggest bright spots on offense for the Nittany Lions this spring, providing solid depth for star junior tailback Silas Redd in what has become a razor-thin backfield.

Bruiser Curtis Dukes sat out the spring while concentrating on academic issues. Stephfon Green and injury-prone Brandon Beachum both graduated, and Beachum opted not to return for a fifth season.

All of that was good news for the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Belton, who is about a dozen pounds heavier than when he arrived on campus a year ago.

At that time, he was ranked the 11th-best receiver in the country even though he was a dual-threat quarterback in high school in New Jersey.

In typical fashion, Belton has handled his move to the backfield fairly easily.

Redd offered up this high praise for Belton after he rushed seven times for a team-high 50 yards and scored on a seven-yard touchdown run in last month’s Blue-White Game in Beaver Stadium.

The versatile Belton also contributed one kickoff return for 23 yards and added one reception for 11 more.

“You guys (the media) only got a dose of what (Bill) can really do, and that’s scary,” said Redd, who was limited to just one series in the Blue-White Game as a precaution because of tendinitis in his knee.

“I’m used to it because I see it every day. But you guys should really get ready for him because he’s a great back. We both know how to make guys miss. But he’s a little more fluent with it, and I’m a little more choppy.

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“But we both get the job done,” Redd added, laughing.

Belton was just one of four true freshmen to play in 2011 for Penn State. He saw limited action, rolling up 65 yards on the ground on 13 carries and a five-yard average while becoming a key element in the wildcat formation under former quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno.

In the Nittany Lions’ new style of Billy Ball, Belton would appear to have nothing but open running room in front of him, both in the fall and the future.

He has proven to be both shifty, and at times, dazzling in the backfield.

His teammates and coach have noticed:

  • “Bill's a great player. He's got a ton of talent,'' fullback Michael Zordich said. “He's an effortless athlete. He's been working on small things. I think he has the ability to add some serious, serious weaponry to our arsenal.''
  •  "Bill's going to be a big-time player -- there's no doubt about that,'' defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "His vision is something you don't see from a lot of running backs. It's crazy to see some of the cuts he makes.''
  •  "I've been really happy with Bill," first-year coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's worked at his craft since we moved him there, and he has good instincts.”

Belton has proven to be elusive earlier in his career.

A four-star recruit coming out of high school, he initially committed to rival Pitt. But Belton changed his mind after the Panthers fired Dave Wannstedt on Dec. 7, 2010, and decided to sign with the Nittany Lions.

Belton chose Penn State over West Virginia and Cincinnati after receiving an in-home visit from Mike McQueary, the Nittany Lions' former recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach.

McQueary told Belton that Penn State planned to use him as a slot receiver and nickel back. He was a three-year starter at free safety in high school. He started at receiver as a sophomore and played quarterback his final two seasons.

Belton was the first player in New Jersey high school history to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 in back-to-back seasons. In his final two years, he passed for 4,472 yards and 36 touchdowns and rushed for 2,195 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Belton’s former high school coach, Mike McBride, has sent a number of players to the NFL, including Donovin Darius, Jamaal Green, Turk McBride and Rashad Baker.

“Bullet Bill” Belton could prove to be every bit as good as them while spelling Redd – as long as he learns to protect the football.

"I want him to carry the ball a little bit closer to his chest and ball security will be something we talk to him about,” O’Brien said. “But I'm very happy with the position switch. That was a good one."

Most everyone would agree.

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