How heartbreak motivated Devin Singletary to become an electrifying running back

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His game tape is among the most entertaining available on YouTube. He’s been a star since he was 12-years old. He had 66 career touchdowns in college and led the nation in rushing TDs and points scored. All while averaging 113 rushing yards per game. Despite all of that success, Devin ‘Motor’ Singletary also has experience in the role of understudy.

Coming to a Bills team that boasts two of the league’s top three rushing leaders in LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore, Singletary knows his number one job is to be a sponge.

“I’m going to be all ears, just soaking up the game that they give me,” Singletary told Buffalobills.com. “I’m ready to learn from them because they know the game very well. So I’m ready to put in some work with those guys. I’m pretty sure they’ll love to work out with me as well and teach me some things.”

That doesn’t mean that Singletary won’t compete. He’s done that from the very first time he was doubted because of his diminutive stature. Once the ball was in his hands it didn’t take long for him to shut people up.

“‘Motor’ is going to be an awesome pro because he loves to work. He’s smart and he takes care of his body, but he loves to work and develop his game and watch film." Doug Socha, former head coach at American Heritage High School

HE'S ALWAYS BEEN A SHOW STOPPER

Bills general manager Brandon Beane thought Singletary’s game tape was so entertaining that he saved it on his Surface tablet. If he thought Singletary’s Florida Atlantic tape was fun to watch, Beane may want to try to track down the back’s little league tape when he was with the Deerfield Packer Rattlers in south Florida.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Singletary’s former high school coach Doug Socha. “He was making kids fall down. He was a spectacular talent. He was 14-years old when we got him but looking back at his little league film he could’ve probably played two years up and made those kids look silly too.”

Socha, who was later an offensive assistant with the Bills under Rex Ryan and is now head coach at Keiser University, was happy to have Singletary on his roster at American Heritage, a charter school back in 2013. As talented as Singletary was there was a pecking order at running back, and he wasn’t at the top.

“Before I was even on the team I took a visit and I saw right away how hard those guys were working,” he said. “It almost looked like a college workout how they ran everything. Once I finally got on the team, it was great energy and I was ready to go to work.”

Singletary worked his way up the depth chart moving ahead of some upper classmen, but there was one back he could not outperform.

TRAGEDY LEAVES A HUGE VOID

Greg Bryant was a dynamic ball carrier for American Heritage and had already drawn the attention of major Division I schools, like Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Singletary was Bryant’s backup and participated on special teams to get on the field.

Fortunately for Singletary, Bryant didn’t give the young upstart the cold shoulder. He could see that the freshman possessed a rare skill set.

The two backs would become fast friends and their healthy competition only made each of them better players.

“When he first saw me he told me, ‘Little bro, you’re going to be great, but you’ve just got to put in the extra time running routes or in the weight room,’” Singletary said. “He was there for me for everything. I could go and talk to him about life too.

“Even though he was the man at that time, I remember when I scored my first high school touchdown he said, ‘One day little bro, you’re going to be better than me if you keep doing what you’re doing.’ He always told me, ‘When you step out on the field you’ve got to tell yourself you’re the best person out there. And you are, so believe that!’ That always stuck with me.”

After leading American Heritage to a state championship, Bryant would go to Notre Dame to play college ball. Largely a backup his first two years for the Irish, Bryant left Notre Dame after two years and enrolled at ASA junior college in Miami to stay on track for his degree.

He then accepted a scholarship offer from UAB where he would play the next football season. But that opportunity never came. While home in South Florida for Mother’s Day weekend, Bryant was shot while driving on I-95 in West Palm Beach and was declared brain dead at the hospital. His family ultimately chose to take him off life support. Tuesday will be the three-year anniversary of his passing, a loss that hit Singletary extremely hard.

“It was very difficult honestly, because that was my big brother,” he said. “It brought me to tears, but some things are out of our control. He’s in a better place now, but it was definitely very difficult.”

“He was like a family member to ‘Motor.’ He called him his brother and he wasn’t lying,” said Socha. “These kids work so hard and they all had the same common goals and they probably spent 350 days of the year together like a family working together. They all wanted to go play college football and have a chance to go to the NFL. I think at the time Greg got killed, we were all shocked by it. ‘Motor’ was devastated for a long time.”

PUTTING THE DREAM TOGETHER

Singletary, who had committed to Florida Atlantic determined he would carry both his dreams and those of his former teammate to reach the NFL. For the self-motivated Singletary, making good for Bryant’s sake only drove him more. And there would be no waiting his turn for the Owls.

By midseason of his freshman year, Singletary was in the starting lineup and rolled up 12 touchdowns, with 10 coming in the last four games. Before every game the 5-7 back would say a prayer and ask for protection and performance from two specific people.

“I just ask my grandmother to watch over me and keep me safe,” Singletary said. “Then I’ll say, ‘Alright big bro, play through me today. Be here with me. Just play through me today.’ I know if he was still here, he’d definitely still be balling so I ask him to play through me. That’s my prayer.”

Singletary would go on to lead the nation in rushing touchdowns (32) as a sophomore while piling up more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage. His 2018 season wasn’t quite as prolific, but was impressive nonetheless.

For a coach like Socha, he saw traits in Singletary’s game that most would label elite.

“The great running backs have things you can’t coach,” he said. “They have vision and great balance and football instincts. He would see things before you as a coach would see it. You’re watching the whole play develop. He has things you can’t coach up and you just let him be himself. He’s a special kid.”

So special that the Bills made him a third-round pick on the second day of the draft. After hearing his name called on television it was hard not to reflect back on the goals he and Bryant had set just six years earlier.

“If he was here, he’d be full of tears and happy for me,” said Singletary. “He’d say, ‘Little bro you did it. Now it’s time for you to go even harder.’ He’d just tell me to keep being great.”

"The great running backs have things you can’t coach. They have vision and great balance and football instincts. ... He has things you can’t coach up and you just let him be himself. He’s a special kid.” Doug Socha, Singletary's high school coach

READY TO GROW UNDER NEW MENTORS

Although the mentor he had as a young teen in Bryant is gone, Singletary is now blessed with a pair of NFL veteran stalwarts in Gore and McCoy. Having worked behind Bryant, the rookie understands the dynamic he walks into in Buffalo.

“Playing behind Greg prepared me a lot for this,” Singletary said of his situation in Buffalo. “I’m coming in and I’ll compete, but with those guys I can learn a lot on the field and off the field.”

“I think he’s going to learn a ton,” said Socha. “The step from college football to that level there’s another step of learning. I’ve sat in that running back room in Buffalo with Anthony Lynn and Shady and Mike Gillislee. Shady is a smart player. He’s really intelligent when it comes to run game scheme and protections. I think ‘Motor’ will be better off in that situation learning from those guys who have been in the league for 10 years, so it’s a perfect fit.”

And if he has to wait his turn behind two likely Hall of Famers, much like he did in high school, it won’t change the way Singletary approaches the daily grind.

“‘Motor’ is going to be an awesome pro because he loves to work,” Socha said. “He’s smart and he takes care of his body, but he loves to work and develop his game and watch film. ‘Motor’ is going to eat it up. He’s going to be a guy who will be sitting pretty for the Bills in the years to come. The Bills have an awesome player.”

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