Penn State's Belton finds motivation in doubters

Penn State running back Bill Belton. (Paul Beaty/AP)

CHICAGO - Reading Bill Belton's tweets over the last week or two, you would think Penn State's running back from South Jersey felt he was being disrespected.

Check out two from July 21. He wrote in one, "Underrated and overlooked . . . damn I'm excited for the season to begin." The other, accompanied by a publication's view of the Big Ten's top five running backs plus three more to watch - no, his name did not appear - said: "First thing I see every morning."

"It's motivation, that's all," Belton said Tuesday at Big Ten Football Media Days. "That's why I go work out extra."

The slights, real or perceived, are part of what fuels Belton entering his final season playing for the Nittany Lions. He likes to compete with a chip on his shoulder, something that began when he was "8 or 9 years old playing Pop Warner football" and the coaches did not vote him an all-star, he said.

That attribute continued after Belton finished an outstanding career at quarterback for Winslow Township High School and entered Penn State as a wide receiver. He was moved to running back after his freshman year, and, after a so-so 2012, he rushed for 803 yards last season.

Still, in his eyes, no respect.

"I was being characterized as a third-down back, a change-of-pace back," he said. "I wasn't a running back. Stuff like that got under my skin. In my mind, I'm a complete back. I can play every down if you need me to, and I can do whatever you need me to do."

Life hasn't always been easy for Belton as a Nittany Lion. After rushing for 103 yards and three touchdowns at Iowa two years ago, his production dipped sharply as he carried only once in the last four games, with Zach Zwinak getting most of the carries.

It seemed uncertain whether Belton would transfer, but his determination, combined with the teaching and support of then-head coach Bill O'Brien, turned things around.

"I was young," he said. "Just like any other young player, you go through a little rough patch with school and football and stuff like that. He helped me mature quicker. I have the utmost respect for Coach O'Brien. He helped me achieve and see things differently with college football and school.

"In order to play under Coach O'Brien, you've got to come out and practice each day. Sometimes you have those days where you're tired or your body's weak. But you've got to continue to fight through that, and he helped me see that."

And he had no thoughts of transferring.

"I'm not a quitter," he said. "I don't quit. I don't run away from anything. My parents kind of instilled that in me at a young age."

Belton will play a role in the Lions' three-pronged running back alignment, joining Zwinak and sophomore Akeel Lynch. The three players are friends and help each other out, Belton said.

"We help each other grow on and off the field," he said. "We compete with each other. At the end of the day, we're trying to make each other better. The bigger picture is to win as many games as possible."