By Jon Sauber | @JonSauber
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Saquon Barkley is no stranger to turning around a football team. At Penn State, he was the face of the team that brought the Nittany Lions back into national relevance in the past two seasons.
Of course, if you ask Barkley, he’ll deny that he was the face of the team. Barkley isn’t one to desire the spotlight, even if his play on the field commands it.
“I never viewed myself as the face of the team,” Barkley said at the National Football League Scouting Combine. “I think there are multiple guys who did an unbelievable job. Even guys before the last two great years we had, keeping that program, and keeping that university intact.”
What Barkley can’t deny is how prolific he was on the football field. He finished his career with the Penn State rushing touchdown record (43) and the total touchdown record (53), on top of finishing his three-year career with 5,538 all-purpose yards.
That resume includes the Rose Bowl Game in his sophomore season, a 52-49 loss to Southern California. Barkley tallied 306 all-purpose yards, including 194 rushing yards. A good chunk of those yards came on a prolific 79-yard run that is the second-longest in Penn State bowl history.
Ask Barkley about that run, and he’ll tell you it didn’t really matter. “That run was definitely one of my favorite runs I’ve ever had, but obviously it (doesn’t) really matter because at the end of the game we didn’t win that game,” Barkley said.
That humility is part of what makes Barkley so special as a player, and he wants the chance to extend that legacy into his NFL career.
When asked about the possibility of being drafted by the Cleveland Browns, who pick first and fourth in the first round of the 2018 draft, Barkley said he would embrace the fact that Cleveland has only won one game in the last two years.
“That’s awesome,” Barkley said, “It’s something bigger than you if you go to a team like that. You want to be a part of something like that. Something bigger than yourself. That’s something that, you’ll leave a legacy, being a part of something special.”
While it is easy to target the Browns as a losing organization, Barkley said he doesn’t see it that way. “Obviously, they’ve had some rough years but I think they’re maybe a couple of pieces away,” Barkley said. “They do have a lot of young talent…they are a good team. If you look at the schedule…they were in a lot of games.”
Barkley added that regardless of his destination, a spot in the NFL will be a dream come true.
“Any team, any team,” Barkley said, “Any team that wants to draft me and that’s blessing me with an opportunity to play for their franchise is a blessing to me. You grow up as a kid dreaming of playing in the NFL. If it’s the Browns or the Giants or wherever, I’m going to come in with my head down and ready to work.”
Barkley said he doesn’t worry about the things he can’t control, and that he’s coming into the combine with his own goals in mind.
“I learned at Penn State that you have to control what you can control,” Barkley said. “If you get focused on (external factors) you take away from yourself. I’m just focused on coming out here and trying to dominate this combine.”
When it comes to his own game, Barkley says that confidence in himself is a key to his success, adding that he feels he can “do it all” as a running back. Rather than bragging about that confidence, he attributes it and his jack-of-all-trades mentality to someone else.
“Back at Penn State (former running backs coach Charles) Huff challenged us to have a tool belt and challenged us to develop your tool belt,” Barkley said.
As far as where Barkley’s next stop is, that’s yet to be determined.
“I don’t care if I’m drafted one, five, 72, or the last pick,” Barkley said. “….That’s not going to change me.”
Barkley said there’s one thing on his mind as he prepares himself for a professional career. “To (keep) that promise I made to my mom when I was a little kid,” he said, “and buy her a house one day.”