How Nicholas Singleton became the Best Runningback in the Nation
The freak athlete is super motivated internally. They are twitchy individuals who can coordinate extremely rapidly. They can take instruction and criticism very well. They also have very solid control through multiple ranges of motion. In addition, their body understands the energy systems to be utilized, have good hand-eye coordination, and recover very well.
In this case, we are going to use the example of Nick Singleton. Nick came to us at Garage Strength at the end of 5th grade. A totally normal kid with extremely long legs. At the time, Nick said he wanted to be one of the best football players he could possibly be. He even said he wanted to be the absolute best. Many kids have that dream, but the freaky part, Nick showed through his work ethic that he meant that.
Nick was a blank slate when he came to us. His work ethic and our blueprint helped in develop into the player he is today. Over that time of creation, he overcame multiple different obstacles to get to the point where was the best high-school football player in the class of 2021.
First, we identified the sport he wanted to train for. The sport is football. Football is an open-skill sport, meaning that Nick, as a running back, needed to focus on technical coordination movements to have a strong transfer of training. Programming has to be on point to make the technical coordination movements create the best and biggest band for their buck.
Knowing football is a team sport feeds into the requirement for solid leadership. This also brings us to athlete typing. Athlete typing is bucketing individuals into one of three buckets: type 1 (zen style athlete), type 2 (social athlete), and type 3 (meathead athlete). Nick is a type 1 athlete. He is the individual that will literally do everything you tell him to do. Nick almost never challenges unless he is trolling. It is almost always an instance of, “I will do what you say.” Nick is open-minded, willing to work, and just do what needs to be done. Because of his work ethic and buy-in, Nick is on the journey to accomplishing his athletic dream. Nick executes the work the way Garage Strength envisions the work being done day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, and year-by-year. As a coach, I can sit back and be like, “Wow. It worked.”
That’s the thing with a type 1 athlete, they almost always execute the programming. The leadership becomes much easier as a coach. The work and expectations need to be laid out clearly, but the follow-through is relatively simple.
From Nick’s sophomore to junior year, covid happened. The first thing Nick did was ask for some barbells and weights for him to bring home to train within his garage. Of course, we said yes, because that is what we do for our athletes.
Nick trained by himself with no squat rack or bench press. Nick would show up on zoom meetings for coaching. I’d tell him we have to do some front squats to work on absolute strength because he is a running back in the sport of football. Nick one day cleaned 330 lbs and proceeded to front squat that for five reps!!!
Nick was willing to train by himself with me on zoom, listening to no music, not doing anything but executing the plan. That goes back to him being a type 1 athlete.
One of the complicated points with football, especially when talking about running backs or athletes playing both ways in high school, the energy systems that need to be trained end up being all of them. He needed alactic training, glycolytic training, and aerobic training.
We needed to increase his absolute strength for sure, which plays into the glycolytic and phosphagen systems. He needed technical coordination movements that also plays a role. He also needed plyometric work, which is alactic with slight levels of glycolytic training. He also had to work his dynamic trunk control and accessory movements which filtered into the alactic and glycolytic energy systems. That left his speed work that fed into the alactic realm.
Football as a sport requires coordination, strength, plyometric work, DTC, and speed. It also asks for full ranges of motion for all angles, all craziness, and most things that can be thought of. This range of motion added more need for absolute strength work and technical coordination work. It also went deep into speed work through various ranges. This meant doing starts from deep unilateral positions as well as from a very tall unilateral position. Every muscle is used by a football player playing the position of running back.
The sport of football also has large human beings operating as opposing forces. That gives more votes for technical coordination movements and absolute strength movements because Nick needs to be really strong and really explosive. The ability to move heavy weight fast and the ability to move really heavy weight are two big factors in football. Not only are large opposing forces operating on the football field, but the speed of play is also pretty chaotic once the play gets going. The chaos showcases why an emphasis on plyometrics, speed, and technical coordination work needs to train even more fully.
Nick as a running back also needs hand-eye coordination to catch the ball for passes and pitches, as well as being able to see the field. I am a firm believer that dynamic trunk control is a big contributor to assisting hand-eye coordination. The ability to control the trunk helps greatly with where the eyes can target to see what is going on.
Developing an athlete of Nick’s caliber is about 6+ years. Nick is good. He is really good. But to get to the truly elite level, the NFL, is still yet to happen. This is where nutrition and programming for long-term development play a large role.
As His Coach
I need to understand that Nick as a type 1 athlete does not really respond to “Hoo-rah!” type yelling. Yes, he gets pumped for games, but he is extremely internally motivated. Back slaps aren’t going to get him to hit PRs. Nick likes to train and push himself to see what he can do next. This doesn’t mean that he won’t rise up when 100,000 people are cheering for him at Beaver Stadium.
Looking back to Nick as a young kid saying, “I want to be the best of the best,” his goals transition. He accomplished being a 5 star recruited athlete. The dream grows. At this point, the dream is to be an all-American running back at Penn State leading the Big Ten in rushing. The big dream then is to go to the NFL and things grow from there.
I can hear people saying, “Nick is just a freak athlete!” Not really.
He is freakish in the fact that he started young and just kept coming back. He is now big, strong, and explosive. It took time to develop that. I had forty to seventy-five minutes to train him each day. That limited time every day is why the transfer of training brought through technical coordination is the number one, key aspect. Absolute strength, which fuels technical coordination, comes in second. Next, in a very, very close third, is the plyometric and speed realms.
We can take all of this and remember that this can be done with minimal equipment. Remember, for eight months of training, Nick had incredibly limited equipment to do the work he needed to do. Regardless, we were able to have him perform a technical coordination movement every single day, something like a power clean, high hang snatch, or a one-box clean, to name a few. The technical coordination movements allow Nick to improve his ability to recruit muscles to put out a lot of power to resist an opposing force. Nick also got to train the technical coordination movements for every minute on the minute for fifteen sets of one to feed into the energy systems. Technical coordination movements give a lot of transfer of training.
The absolute strength movement follows the technical coordination movement. A back squat fits the bill perfectly. We even coupled the back squat with an ab exercise to target some dynamic trunk control. That all ended out with accessory work that fed into speed and plyometric work. Reflexive strength movements, as well as bodybuilding movements, help here.
When developing a freak we have to understand what aspects give the most transfer of training in relation to the sport being trained for. Looking at Nick Singleton as an example allows us to see how to start from point A to go to point B to point C and eventually arrive at the dream. Our blueprint develops total freaks.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.