Saquon Barkley is Awestruck, Humble, and Not a Big Fan of Hurdling People

June 29, 2016 at 9:51 am Leave a comment

Photo via Mark Selders

Photo via Mark Selders

On May 5, NFL.com released its list of the 100 best players in college football. Saquon Barkley had no idea he was on this list, let alone that he was so high.

The author of the post said that Barkley was the No. 54 player in all of college football. He believes that only four running backs are better than Penn State’s dynamic sophomore, and all of them are likely headed to the NFL after the 2016 season. While a lot of these lists come out during the offseason, this one had Barkley higher than most.

Upon learning about this, Barkley’s reaction was twofold. At first, he expressed amazement that he was ranked so high.

It’s sometimes easy to forget this because Barkley was so good in his one year in the blue and white, but he’s still a teenager. While he carries himself with the confidence of a veteran, Barkley is still a young athlete who spent part of his freshman year in awe of how cool life is for a college football player.

An example: Penn State played Ohio State in Columbus last year. Barkley went up against some of the best players in America, like former Buckeyes quarterback/wide receiver Braxton Miller, whom Barkley used in video games when he was younger. He even went up against his favorite player in college football in ex-Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, who called Barkley “the Truth” after the game. (Barkley outrushed Elliott, 194 yards to 153.)

“It was kind of a surreal moment,” Barkley said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m going against future NFL players, these guys are legit.’ But they’re saying that I’m good, too. I can be on that level one day. It was just a surreal moment, something I’ll never forget.”

Even Barkley’s decision to attend Penn State was based partly on the fact that this place blew him away. Barkley is a native of The Bronx and grew up a fan of Rutgers, the school that he committed to when he was a sophomore.

But then Barkley visited Penn State in the fall of 2013. Then-coach Bill O’Brien – who made Barkley feel “starstruck” due to his ties to the NFL – hosted the high school junior for the Nittany Lions’ four overtime victory over Michigan, which left a lasting impact.

After James Franklin was hired, Penn State amped up its pursuit, and on February 19, 2014, Barkley flipped his commitment. In addition to his desire to play football in Happy Valley, he cited the caliber of education at Penn State – something that Franklin discussed extensively with Barkley’s family – as a big reason why he flipped.

Barkley spent the next few months tearing up high school football in Pennsylvania before arriving in State College and establishing himself as a star in the making. He managed to stay out of the spotlight and let his play define him, which leads us to the second part of Barkley’s reaction to NFL.com’s list.

While Barkley did mention that he wants to eventually earn the title of the best running back in America, he’s really good at tuning out all the noise and ignoring the attention that has come his way over the last year or so.

Photo via Mark Selders

Photo via Mark Selders

For example, you know how he has a propensity to hurdle opponents who try to go low on him, which leads to some incredible highlights? As it turns out, he doesn’t like doing that, and wanted to stop hurdling defenders once he got to college.

“Everyone thinks it’s cool,” Barkley said. “But, like, me and especially my mom, my mom doesn’t like it at all. You just put yourself at risk.”

Even the attention that came Barkley’s way after he gave a gold medal that he won to another athlete during a high school track meet somewhat rubbed him the wrong way. He viewed it as a simple act of kindness – “No one was supposed to know,” Barkley said – and he isn’t a huge a fan of the media attention or the people who were skeptical about his motives for giving away the medal.

But still, there is a ton of preseason hype heading into 2016, and Barkley is primed to back it all up. This offseason was the first time that he spent an entire spring/summer in a college strength and conditioning program. He’s in new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s running back-friendly system – in Moorhead’s four years at Fordham, the team’s featured back averaged about 1,717 yards and 16 touchdowns.

But most importantly, Barkley has an inherent drive to improve. His goals in 2016 revolve around becoming a better player, leader, and teammate.

One of those goals is to “run the ball better.” Because even though he’s the best running back in the Big Ten, there’s always room to improve.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

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Entry filed under: Athletics, From the Magazine. Tags: , , , , .

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