Saquon Barkley called Rutgers his dream school when he committed to play football for the Scarlet Knights in September.
His dream changed after a visit to Happy Valley last weekend.
Barkley announced Wednesday afternoon that he was switching his verbal commitment from Rutgers to Penn State. The junior running back is ranked No. 199 in the country by Rivals.com, which has given him a four-star rating.
"It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life," Barkley said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "The way I was raised and taught is to never go back on your word. I didn't want to do it because I felt wrong.
"But I just had to take matters in my own hands and do what's best for me. Rutgers was my dream school at the time [when I first committed]. Penn State was just a better fit for me. Why would I pass that up?"
Rutgers offered Barkley a scholarship over the summer, before he had even been a full-time starter for Whitehall. He showed he deserved the Division I attention during the fall, running for 1,506 yards and a Whitehall single-season record 23 touchdowns. He also added 21 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns, earning a spot on The Morning Call all-area first team.
Missouri, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Boston College and North Carolina were among the other programs that began pursuing Barkley since the start of his junior season. The chance to stay in Pennsylvania and play for new Nittany Lions coach James Franklin swayed Barkley to head to Happy Valley.
"It's kind of a sad, happy day all at once," Whitehall coach Brian Gilbert said. "The Rutgers coaches were great. "That's so special when you get a Pennsylvania kid going from the heart of the Lehigh Valley to Penn State," he added. "I'd feel excited if it was a Parkland kid, a Liberty kid, an Easton kid. I hope after next season is over and all the competition is over, everyone jumps on the boat and can be happy for him as well. It's great."
Barkley said education also played a part in his decision. He is considering a career in communications, business or physical therapy. He has plenty of time to sort through his future outside of football. Wednesday he was happy to move forward with a decision that has been weighing on his mind in recent days.
"What Coach Franklin is going to bring there is going to be special," Barkley said. "I want to be a part of it. I can't wait."
In other Penn State news, freshman Tanner Hartman, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound guard who sat out the 2013 season as a redshirt, told PennLive.com he will transfer at the end of the spring semester. He told the web site: "Things changed and some things just didn't work out," but did not comment further.