Doug Middleton’s first season at Appalachian State proved to be a case study of an eager rookie managing to make the most of limited opportunities. A year ago, Middleton, a Winston-Salem native, made the team as back-up cornerback. He also started two games at free safety when injuries began to take a toll on the ASU defense.
At 6-feet-1, 198 pounds with 4.4 seconds speed in the 40-yard dash, Middleton is well equipped to play cornerback or safety. His toughness and ability to provide lock-down pass coverage are prime reasons why he’s the only underclassman defensive back who figures to get substantial playing time in App’s veteran secondary this season.
By the end of last season, Middleton had showcased enough of his game-changing skills to validate his reputation as a bona fide playmaker. In an early-season victory over North Carolina A&T, Middleton intercepted the first pass of his college career and ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown. A few weeks later, he delivered a game-saving pick to nullify a scoring drive as Appalachian held on to beat 13th-ranked Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Middleton’s contributions as a college rookie did not go unnoticed. He was selected as a freshman All-American by the College Sports Journal and he was named to the Southern Conference’s All-Freshman team. ASU finished the season at 8-4 and lost to Maine in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs.
“Last year, I didn’t get as much playing time as I would have liked,” said Middleton, a sophomore who graduated from Parkland in 2011. “But even so, I’m pretty happy about what I was able to do whenever I got the opportunity. I made a lot mistakes, but things still went well for me.”
Middleton expects to use his freshman successes as a springboard for better things to come in 2012. He is a projected starter as a nickel back in the Mountaineers’ new 3-3-5 defensive alignment.
“I believe I’m pretty much on schedule as to what I want to accomplish as a college player,” he said. “This year, I’ll get more chances to show what I can do and prove that I’m one of the best.” At the college level, Middleton quickly realized that in order for him to excel, he would have to do more than rely on his physical gifts. During the course of his freshman season, he gained a deeper appreciation for mastering the mental aspects of the game. As a result, he began to devote more time to studying the opposition. In the process, he learned how to identify tendencies and other details about an opponent that could give him a competitive edge.
“Watching and analyzing tapes is all part of the preparation that helps me play better,” he said. “With the right preparation, it’s much easier. I can read and react rather than try to think about what’s happening as the play develops.”
Taking the necessary steps to be ready to play is not a newly acquired skill for Middleton. During his years at Parkland, he worked out frequently with first cousin Greg Jones, a star fullback at Florida State who has played nine NFL seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Middleton says he talks to Jones about once a week.
“I learned so much just by being around him,” Middleton said. “He set the right example of how hard work will get you where you want to be in this game. By watching him, I got to see for myself the level of preparation it takes to play at a high level of competition.”