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Inside The Chart: Off and Running

by Andy Demetra (The Voice of the Yellow Jackets)

Off And Running: WR Eric Singleton has turned heads with his blazing speed and precocious play. So for someone who’s made such an immediate impact, how did he fly under the recruiting radar for so long?

Inside The Chart | By Andy Demetra (The Voice of the Yellow Jackets)

The Georgia Tech school record in the outdoor 100-meter dash is 10.24 seconds, set in 1982 by Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Famer Jeff Larkin.

The school record in the 200-meter dash is 20.67 seconds, set by two-time Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Angelo Taylor in 1997.

You may want to sit down for this next part.

Eric Singleton, Jr.’s personal best in the 100-meter dash is 10.20 seconds, which he ran last spring as a senior for Alexander High School in Douglasville, Ga. His 200-meter dash PR is 20.72, which he ran a week earlier.

That means Singleton has already run faster than a 41-year-old Tech school record, and he’s only 0.05 seconds behind another school record held by a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

And he’d like to offer an asterisk on his 100-meter PR.

“It was 10.1, but they rounded it up to 10.2 because of the wind,” Singleton said. For good measure, he also went undefeated in the 400-meter dash his senior year, clocking a personal best time of 46.21.

The 5-foot-11, 173-pounder has since traded his spikes for cleats, though he’s still turning heads with his whiplash-inducing speed – while completely resetting expectations for what’s possible in 2023.

Heading into Georgia Tech’s matchup with Bowling Green at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field (3:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports), Singleton’s 62.5 receiving yards per game lead all true freshmen nationally. He’s caught a touchdown pass in four-straight games, the first Yellow Jacket to do so since Kelly Campbell in 2000. And Singleton has done it in the first four games of his career.

But according to his coaches, speed alone hasn’t accounted for his astonishing early success.

“He’s not a track guy that plays football, I’ll tell you that. He’s a football player that happens to run track and be very fast,” said head coach Brent Key.

Added Tech offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner, “A lot of times with those ‘speed’ guys, you’re not sure of their ball skills and their ability to adjust with the ball down the field. Well, this kid is a receiver that can run.”

Catching the eye of recruiters, however, was more of a struggle than his flashy freshman numbers would suggest. By the end of Singleton’s junior season, he only held a single scholarship offer from a Division II school. He was set to play at Western Kentucky before he decommitted days before the December early signing period.

It begs the question: for someone with such undeniable speed and skill, who has already proven he belongs at the high-major level, how did Eric Singleton, Jr., manage to fly under the radar for so long?

The answer involves a slow start; a quick acceleration; and a fateful connection that helped the Yellow Jackets close ground fast.

And now that he has arrived at Georgia Tech, his coaches believe he’s only just begun to scratch the surface.

***

Key called Singleton into his office recently.

“I said, ‘When did you start playing football?’ He said when he was seven years old,” Key recalled.

“He’s played it his whole life. He loves playing.”

So no, Singleton is not an interloper, not some track star masquerading as a one-note football player. He spent his first two years at Douglas County High School, 20 miles west of Atlanta; though he played on the varsity as a freshman and sophomore, he spent most of his Friday nights as a reserve, backlogged behind a veteran group of receivers. His playing time increased after transferring to crosstown Alexander High School, where he finished his junior year with 33 receptions and four touchdown catches.

They were solid numbers, but not splashy – and certainly not enough to attract major recruiting attention. By the time his junior season ended, Singleton said his only scholarship offer was from Morehouse College.

“I didn’t have any film. That was my first year even starting on varsity,” he admitted.

He continued to excel on the track, clocking a season-best time of 10.68 in the 100 meters and advancing to the GHSA state meet in both the 100 and 400 meters (he didn’t reach the finals in either event). With the summer before his senior year approaching, he wondered if college coaches were pigeonholing him as a “track-first” guy, both in skill and body type.

“They were complaining about my size. They thought I was just a track guy, or I didn’t have any ball skills,” he said.

“They think I just run fast and run straight. I can actually run routes, too.”

Added Faulkner, “A lot of times in this day and age, with everything so sped up in the recruiting process, everybody’s in such a hurry to get everything done. A lot of kids get overlooked as juniors, or they develop late or whatever the reason may be.”

That started to change when Singleton attended a showcase camp in early June at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. Georgia Tech wide receivers coach Josh Crawford, then entering his second season as the wide receivers coach at Western Kentucky, was on the hunt for undervalued prospects.

Watching him up close, Crawford liked his route running, hand-eye coordination and ability to accelerate and decelerate (a common knock among sprinters who struggle to adapt to football). Singleton’s speed clearly separated him too. But Crawford was just as smitten by his competitiveness.

“That’s one of the things I remember to this day. At that camp, one of the things that most intrigued me about him was he just wanted to keep [getting] in there and competing. He’d skip the line, get in there, and compete and dominate. He’s sort of like a silent assassin. Don’t let his calm demeanor fool you. When he steps in between the lines, he’s a baller,” Crawford recalled.

Crawford offered Singleton at that camp, as did a handful of other schools. Their relationship blossomed over the summer, and Singleton committed to Western Kentucky on August 29, 2022, a day after his 17th birthday. Two days later, he enthusiastically posted on Twitter that 247Sports had given him a three-star ranking.

He wouldn’t stay a secret for much longer. As a senior at Alexander, Singleton caught 65 passes for 1,115 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging a gaudy 17.2 yards a reception. As the fall progressed, a scroll through his Twitter timeline shows how interest heated up from Power-5 programs. Minnesota offered him in early October. Michigan State and West Virginia soon followed suit. Texas A&M, Nebraska, Utah and Auburn, where his cousin Darvin Adams played wide receiver and once set an SEC Championship Game record for receiving yards, came in with offers in early December.

Georgia Tech hadn’t entered the picture – at least not yet. When Singleton contemplated re-opening his recruitment shortly before the December early signing period, the Yellow Jackets knew they needed to act fast.

It turns out they had just the man who could track him down.

Eric Singleton Jr. (13) celebrates with Malik Rutherford after hauling in his fourth TD reception in as many games last Saturday at Wake Forest.

***

When Faulkner evaluated his wide receivers group after getting hired as Georgia Tech’s offensive coordinator, he knew he needed to add some nitrous to the room. He and his staff hustled to see if there was any last-minute speed still available.

“It happens all the time. You’ve just got to do your homework,” Faulkner said of the annual late recruiting push.

Singleton was already known to the Georgia Tech coaches, but they nevertheless cued up his film. “He was electric. Catching screens, and taking them 60 [yards]. Then you looked up his track times and you’re like, ‘Wow, this may be a guy,’” Faulkner said.

Faulkner called Kenyatta Watson, Georgia Tech’s director of scouting, upstairs to his bare-bones office.  Watson recalls it was on a Thursday, six days before the start of the early signing period.

Faulkner told him he needed Singleton.

Say less, Watson replied.

He called up Singleton and FaceTimed him on the spot.

Watson had that kind of pull. A nationally regarded talent evaluator with deep ties to the Atlanta area, he had known Singleton since he attended his “Coach K National Middle School Exposure Showcase Camp” as an eighth grader. Watson kept tabs on him throughout his high school career; Singleton’s trainer, Hilton Alexander, would occasionally send him clips of them working out together. He remained an advocate of the wideout, even if others were skeptical about his size.

“He’s kind of like family,” Singleton said of Watson. “He stays in contact with my mom, my family, everything, and make sure everybody is straight.”

With days to go before the December signing period opened, that relationship helped Faulkner forge a fast connection with the receiver.

“He was telling me they wanted me to stay home – stay close to home and make plays,” recalled Singleton.  Faulkner and co-offensive coordinator Chris Weinke visited Singleton in person and offered him a scholarship in the middle of an evening track practice at Alexander. He and Weinke both marveled at how effortlessly he ran sprints in the December chill. They didn’t have misgivings about his size either – Watson was once asked to put together a data project on the average height of certain positions in the NFL. The average NFL wide receiver, he concluded, stood between 5-foot-10 1/2 and 5-foot-11.

Singleton tried his best to manage the whirlwind. “My family just wanted me to go wherever I felt was best for me, wherever I felt I fit in well, and wherever felt like a family atmosphere to me. This had everything that I needed,” he said.

One week and two unofficial visits later, he became the last commitment of Georgia Tech’s 2023 high school signing class.

Said Faulkner, unaware of the wordplay: “It really happened that fast.”

***

Georgia Tech would have to wait, though. Singleton still had unfinished business on the track.

He ran fast times as a junior at Alexander High School, but his personal bests jumped to national class levels last spring. His 100-meter dash time improved by almost a half-second; his time in the 400 meters jumped by nearly three seconds, an absurd amount of improvement for someone who was already plenty fast. He finished his senior year with a state championship in the 100 meters and 400 meters and a second-place finish in the 200 meters. His 100-, 200- and 400-meter times all ranked in the top 20 nationally, according to MileSplit.

(As for the source of his speed, Singleton smiled. “My whole family. Everybody’s got it naturally,” he said.)

That only heightened the anticipation for when he arrived at Tech in June. He turned heads further when he clocked 23.34 miles per hour on his Catapult GPS tracker during a July testing session.

His coaches, though, were more concerned about a different type of speed: how fast could Singleton absorb the playbook? Lack of confidence can slow down even the most jackrabbit of receivers.

It helped that he’d be playing for his position coach at Western Kentucky after all: in a delightful bit of kismet, less than two weeks after Singleton broke the news to Crawford that he’d be decommitting, Crawford got hired to the same position at Georgia Tech. Crawford made sure Singleton was studying the playbook since January.

“When he got here, we weren’t really sure how well he would pick up the offense. But man, the guy’s extremely smart and intelligent. He picked it up as quick as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Faulkner said.

“He’s a very even player. He doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low. And the biggest thing is he’s been able to learn. There’s a lot that we’ve put on him, and he’s taken it in stride and really excelled,” Crawford added.

His speed remains his greatest weapon – on his season-long 51-yard catch against Ole Miss September 16, Key joked that after Singleton caught the ball, “DNA took over.” Faulkner noted that his ability to stretch the field vertically has allowed his other receivers to get open underneath, which has only added to his offense’s effectiveness.

But Key also knows Singleton still has plenty of progress left.

“There are still so many things he needs to work on.  He’s got to continue to attack the ball [and] high-point the ball. For a guy his size, he’s got unbelievable ability to leap and get up above defenders, but he’s got to attack those balls,” he said.

Yet four games into his college career, Key sees a player with more polish in his route tree than the average freshman. He seems someone who understands leverage and coverage. He sees someone with an innate feel for the game, something that doesn’t always reveal itself in highlight clips. And he sees someone with a genuine love for the game, which may explain his rapid rise the most.

“He’s getting to the point where he can do it all,” Faulkner said. The numbers bear that out: in the last two games, Singleton has been targeted a total of 21 times, 15 more than the next highest receiver.

That could make for some long, dread-filled Saturdays for opposing defenses. But as his recruitment showed, the freshman has managed the sudden, increased attention once before.

“I’m here to make plays,” Eric Singleton, Jr., said. “Expect a lot more plays in the future.”

And fast.

Alexander-Tharpe Fund

The Alexander-Tharpe Fund is the fundraising arm of Georgia Tech athletics, providing scholarship, operations and facilities support for Georgia Tech’s 400-plus student-athletes. Be a part of developing Georgia Tech’s Everyday Champions and helping the Yellow Jackets compete for championships at the highest levels of college athletics by supporting the Annual Athletic Scholarship Fund, which directly provides scholarships for Georgia Tech student-athletes. To learn more about supporting the Yellow Jackets, visit atfund.org.

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