Getting Up To Speed

Forest Park senior running back Singletary has come long way since days as freshman when he couldn't put his helmet on right

From The Cover

September 21, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Reporter

As a freshman at Douglass High three years ago, Alan Singletary struggled the first time he tried to put a football helmet on his head.

"It was scary. It was hard. It was embarrassing. I fumbled with the chin strap. I couldn't adjust it to fit my head right. I couldn't buckle it on right," said Singletary, who had never played organized football. "Trying to figure out how to run with it - that was an experiment. It felt like it was hard to breathe. But once I got used to running with it, it became a part of me. After a while, you don't even know it's there."

Now at Forest Park, everything seems to be second nature to Singletary on the football field. The running back is so elusive, opponents often miss him. Singletary rarely fumbles or misses a catch out of the backfield, "his hands are so good," coach Obie Barnes Sr. said. And it is the once-timid Singletary - having been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash -who now puts a scare into rival coaches and defenders.

"Oh my God! No. 2 [Singletary] is back? I thought he was a senior, but he was only a junior?" said Poly coach Anthony Knox, upon learning that Singletary - who scored five touchdowns in almost single-handedly defeating Knox's Engineers last year - had returned for a final season.

"He broke off an interception return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, ran three touchdowns on running plays. ... He just broke out on us," recalled Knox, whose players had a hard time getting their helmets - let alone their hands - on Singletary. "We really didn't expect him to be that good, but he shocked us. He's got great quickness, runs up the middle and to the outside real hard. You have to be prepared for his tough running ability, his heart, and his intensity. This year, we'll have to do a much better scouting report on him."

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Singletary, who transferred from Douglass after the Ducks went winless in his sophomore year, has continued to develop, said Barnes, who is in his 29th season as the Foresters' coach.

"There was this one play against Poly where he disappears into a mass of defenders, and then, all of a sudden, he materializes from the huddle of players and runs for a touchdown. We couldn't believe it - they couldn't believe it," said Barnes, 56. " Alan's got such tenacity and explosiveness. If he hits the outside, he's gone. He's not as big as some of the great running backs that I've had here, but without a doubt, he's right with them."

Singletary opened the season on Sept. 9 with four touchdowns in a 37-8 rout of Samuel Banks. In that game, Singletary rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, had a 48-yard scoring reception and scored touchdowns on an 82-yard kickoff return and a 57-yard punt return.

He followed that performance last Friday by scoring two touchdowns in Forest Park's 14-12 win over Southwestern.

Although a leader on this year's team, Singletary was not the primary offensive weapon for Barnes last season. Not until midway through the Foresters' eighth game, against Edmondson - when starter Makiha Cooper suffered a career-ending knee injury - did Singletary get switched from fullback to halfback.

"One game later, Poly becomes Alan's breakout game," Barnes said. "They just weren't ready for him."

Against Poly, Singletary ran for three touchdowns and 230 yards on 21 carries. He also scored on a 65-yard punt return and a 55-yard interception return.

"Funny thing about that situation is ... I was joking with a friend of mine before the game that I thought I could score a bunch of touchdowns against those guys," Singletary said. "I just had this feeling, you know, and it just happened. Coach Barnes said we hadn't beaten Poly in 20 years. I will always look back on that day as the day I had probably the best game of my life."

Singletary ended the year with 1,353 yards and 13 touchdowns, leading the Foresters to the Class 1A state playoffs, where they suffered a first-round loss to eventual state champion Dunbar.

Barnes thinks the best is yet to come for Singletary, who need look no further than his running backs coach, Obie Barnes Jr., for motivation. Nicknamed "O.J.," Barnes Jr. holds the school's single-season rushing record of 1,660 yards, set in 1990.

"Alan is a joy to watch. I like his moves - he has excellent field vision," Barnes Jr. said. "I would like nothing more than to coach him through a year in which he winds up breaking my record. I think he's capable of doing it."

His progress is impressive, especially considering that he entered high school with no experience playing organized football.

"Growing up in Baltimore, I never played organized sports," Singletary said. "I played football in the streets, just watched semi-pro games and picked up little tips and tried to use them. But I didn't play for real until I got to Douglass."

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