Plastered on the doors of Penn State football’s Lasch Complex are the words: You are now entering the most competitive environment in college football.
Competition is one of Penn State’s the core values, and one only needs to go to the running back room to find what could truly be the most competitive environment in college football.
That room is lead by sixth-year running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider, who embraces competition and thrives on it both on the field and off.
“I think it’s got to be who your makeup is because it’s your DNA,” Seider told NSN at a coaches availability last Thursday in the Lasch Building. “Your room’s a direct reflection of you, so if you’re a guy that is competitive and you coach that way, you teach that way and walk that way, you live that way, you become your habits.”
It should be no surprise those habits have habitually made the Penn State running back room one of the strongest, most competitive position groups. It’s led to the recruitment of guys like Keyvonne Lee, Noah Cain, Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
“With recruiting, when you go out and recruit the guys you bring in your room, you better go watch and see how they compete,” Seider said. “Is the guy gonna give it to you for four quarters? Is he the guy who will give you for a couple quarters and when it doesn’t go well get down? Everything you do is a reflection of you in my opinion because your players are your livelihood. If they don’t perform well, you probably won’t be coaching them so you better you inject that personality into your guys.”
Seider arrived in 2018 after Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders formed an uber-competitive backfield that led to a Fiesta Bowl win. He’s had Sanders, Journey Brown plus Devyn Ford and the aforementioned Cain and Lee.
Now, it’s Allen and Singleton’s turn to compete and make each other better. They’ve both got skills that should set them up nicely on Sundays. Even though they still are at Penn State, it’s never too early to prepare players for what’s to come and that’s something Seider takes pride in.
“Even Stevie Wonder can see that these guys probably got NFL ability so you talked to them that way,” Seider said. “These guys want to play in the NFL. When you go into an NFL locker room, there’s gonna be five running backs that all were good at the college wherever they came from and every day is a job so you got to compete.”
Allen and Singleton won’t be at Penn State forever and it’s up to Seider and company to find the next in line to compete and take over the feature role in the backfield. Seider knows that and Allen and Singleton know that as well.
“We have a thing I tell them every spring … I’m actually going out to try to replace you,” Seider said. “Your job is not to let me replace you. If you relax, you let a young kid like one of these guys come in and beat you out, that’s not on me, that’s on you. Your job is the expectation to come in and get better every day. That is the standard.”
That brutal honesty is what’s made him an excellent recruiter. It’s allowed him to build relationships not based on facades and is refreshing in a sport where the truth isn’t always at the forefront of conversations.
“Too many guys in this profession lie. You got to be up front with a kid. You got to recruit every kid like he’s your kid,” Seider said. “At the end of the day, if you get a kid or don’t get a kid at least you can lay your head on the bed nice and say I did it the right way. To me, that’s how I live and that’s my ethics when I go to recruit and I’m going to continue to do it that way.”