By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
When Oklahoma State running backs coach Jemal Singleton talks about his nearly 4-month-old daughter, Mallory, his eyes light up and his usual smile grows even bigger.
He is a proud papa, indeed.
“Every time we talk about her, he’s always lighting up,” OSU senior running back Jeremy Smith said. “I’m very happy for them.”
But it wasn’t always smiles. Mallory was a preterm baby, which had Singleton sweating and worrying, more than cuddling and cooing.
“A lot of times with preterms, the lungs aren’t fully developed and that was the thing with her,” Singleton said. “Everything seemed fine from the onset, but they could see that she was struggling breathing and had to take her to Oklahoma City. ...
“There’s no worse feeling of just helplessness of just watching your child struggle to breathe. I still have that vision in my head of her struggling to breathe.”
OSU coach Mike Gundy said he saw the stress it had on Singleton — but the OSU head man could relate.
“My last two boys were born early — one four weeks, one five weeks — and had to go to ICU, but only for a day,” Gundy said. “They went through it for almost a week, so it effects you. You worry because it’s out of your hands.”
With his newborn having to be transferred from Stillwater Medical Center to Neonatal Intensive Care in Oklahoma City, Singleton said the staff at the new location made it very comfortable for the OSU coach and his wife Jennifer, and made sure Mallory was officially a new member of Cowboy nation.
“They knew that I coached, so we actually had bedding with OSU on it. So our baby girl, one of the first sheets she ever slept on was OSU,” Singleton said.
The timing was perfect for the OSU running backs coach, though. While Mallory was a preterm, it worked to where Singleton was home for the birth of the baby — instead of being on the recruiting trail.
However, Singleton didn’t get to spend much time with his newborn before his work duties beckoned and he was traveling across the country to recruit for the Cowboy football program.
Fortunately technology didn’t leave him too far away from the little one. Singleton said they were able to hook his tablet to the baby monitor which allowed him to both see and speak to his daughter.
“It was extremely tough because she came right at the beginning of recruiting. As soon as we got her home, I was leaving,” Singleton said. “... So every night, when I was in the hotel I could pull up my tablet and watch her sleep, It allowed me to talk to her. So that was as close to being there.
“But I’d be gone for a week and I’d come home and swear it was a different baby because the growth was just unbelievable.”
Now that the football season is just around the corner, Singleton is balancing the late nights with the baby with the early morning practices for the Cowboys. And while the Air Force Academy running back and son of a retired Air Force sergeant may be lacking in sleep, his players don’t see any negatives from his busy schedule both on and off the field.
“Coach Singleton was always the coach that kind of laughed and joked with you and tried to get you more comfortable with the game,” Smith said. “He’s still that, but now you see that he’s more of a father figure now. He’s still the same guy, but he has more of the ‘You’ve got to do this, or do that.’ That just comes along with that.”