Posts tagged ‘Penn State Football’

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

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

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

John Urschel Heads Back to School

John Urschel does the math for ESPN The Magazine. Photo by Gregg Segal/ESPN.

Photo by Gregg Segal/ESPN.

It’s been a while since we’ve written about John Urschel ’12, ’13g, the former Penn State offensive lineman who doubled as a standout student in mathematics. Urschel’s latest endeavor–when he’s not playing for the Baltimore Ravens–is pursuing his Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT.

Urschel explained his decision to continue his education in a piece for The Players’ Tribune. The truncated version is that his mother wanted him to go to MIT as an undergrad, but Urschel’s desire to attend Penn State won out.

As for managing to stay in shape while also making time for schoolwork, don’t worry: Urschel trains with the school’s football team, which he credits with helping him remember that football should feel like a game instead of a job.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

May 26, 2016 at 10:12 am Leave a comment

The Story Behind the ‘We Are’ Statue

ESPN released a video today about the phrase “We Are Penn State.” More specifically, the video is about its origins and how it inspired the We Are statue on campus that was given as the class of 2013’s gift.

It’s narrated by Keegan-Michael Key ’96g and includes interviews with Wally Triplett ’49, Morgan Delaware ’13, and Jonathan Cramer ’94, among others. Delaware was the 2013 class gift committee chair, while Cramer was the statue’s sculptor.

The video starts by recalling the events of November 2011, and their impact on Penn State pride. Cramer then talks about his desire to enter a competition to build the statue. In the course of his research for the project, Cramer learned about the legend behind “We Are Penn State,” which we wrote about in 2009 (the author of our story, Michael Weinreb ’94, was also interviewed by ESPN). Cramer says he felt inspired and got to work on a statue that could “stand the test of time.”

Some argue that the story of Wally Triplett and the 1947 Penn State football team has no direct ties to the famous rallying cry—and that may well be true. But the ESPN video is still a great tribute to that team, and it provides the story behind the statue.

The video ends with a link to a website soliciting donations for help with Triplett’s health care. To watch the video, click on the image in the tweet at the top of this post.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

May 24, 2016 at 2:47 pm 3 comments

Keegan-Michael Key on Why He Chose Penn State

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Keegan-Michael Key ’96 and his frequent collaborator, Jordan Peele, have done a number of media appearances recently to promote their new movie Keanu. One appearance stood out to us because Key mentioned one of the reasons why he chose to attend Penn State.

The duo appeared on a podcast, and Key (last year’s Homecoming grand marshal, in case you forgot) mentioned that he loves the bond that forms between fathers and sons over sports. He then explained that watching one of his father’s friends cheer for a number of Penn Staters who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers – he mentioned players like Jack Ham ’71 and Franco Harris ’72 – helped turn him on to the university.

Key and Peele are great on this podcast, so listening to the whole thing is recommended (even though the host’s voice is a bit grating). If you’d like to jump to Key’s bit about Penn State, head to the 56:39 mark.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

May 2, 2016 at 11:16 am 1 comment

From Hillary Clinton to Adele, Mike Reid’s Biggest Hit Lives On

If you caught the opening of Saturday Night Live this weekend, you saw Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush (or, at least, the comedians playing them) trying to woo skeptical voters with renditions of the early ’90s hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” No matter which way you fall on the political spectrum, it was pretty funny stuff:

Of course, most folks watching probably didn’t realize the Penn State connection to a song both Rolling Stone and Mojo magazines rated among the best of all time: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was written by former Nittany Lion football All-American Mike Reid ’69. The Outland and Maxwell Trophy winner went on to a terrific but relatively brief NFL career before committing to music, where he’s built a quietly stellar career as a songwriter. (ESPN.com caught up with him last year.) And when he does play live, as he did in this clip captured in 2014, he gives his own take on the classic he wrote.

Reid has mostly worked under the radar over the years, but as that SNL sketch reminded us, his most famous song has some serious staying power. In addition to Raitt’s huge hit 25 years ago, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” has been covered by the likes of George Michael, Boyz II Men, and most recently, Adele.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

February 15, 2016 at 12:57 pm 2 comments

Jordan Norwood’s Super Journey

A photo posted by Jordan Norwood (@jordanorwood) on

It’s cliché to say that an athlete’s career seems like it was ripped from a movie, but in the case of Jordan Norwood ’08, his career has followed a very Hollywood-esque path.

Norwood was a lightly-recruited kid out of high school who went to his local college and eventually turned into one of the best receivers in school history. He then went unselected in the NFL Draft, and for his career, Norwood has been cut/waived more times (5) than he has found the end zone (once in 2011).

But Norwood kept persevering, and on Sunday night, we were all reminded of the dynamic player who suited up for the Nittany Lions from 2005 to 2008. Norwood set the Super Bowl record for the longest punt return with his 61-yard effort against Carolina. And of course, when the game was over, Norwood won his first Lombardi Trophy.

So from all of us at The Penn Stater, congratulations, Jordan. Here’s to hoping there are many more Super Bowls in your future.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

February 8, 2016 at 3:27 pm 1 comment

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