Penn State's Saquon Barkley broke six tackles on his way to the future Monday night, lighting up the Rose Bowl the way so few have before him.
It's a shame for Barkley that his star-making turn ended in a 52-49 loss to USC in the highest-scoring, wildest Rose Bowl in history. It's also a shame that we can't savor the running back's inspired performance before launching him into the NFL draft conversation, but that's going to happen. It's happening already, as those who want a piece of Barkley's future already are making their move.
By this time next season, the running back from Whitehall High could be among the most coveted players in college football. Is he ready for it? His father is emphatic.
"I think he's built for this," Alibay Barkley said during a recent interview at the family's home in Coplay.
Showing off on national stage: Barkley, the Big Ten offensive player of the year, showed the nation Monday what his fans at Penn State have seen for two seasons: the razor's-edge footwork, acceleration and three-dimensional vision that made him one of the most dynamic backs in college football. He rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns, caught a pass for another and stunned 95,128 fans with a 79-yard touchdown run that was the lightning bolt of Penn State's second-half comeback from a 20-7 deficit.
On that run, Barkley sidestepped a defender in the backfield, one of six tackles he broke or dodged on the way to the second-longest touchdown run of his career. The run underscored everything that coaches, fans and, yes, NFL scouts love about Barkley.
"He's a smart kid who works hard at it to get better," said Matt Millen, a fellow Whitehall High and Penn State product. "He's humble, coachable, teachable. He doesn't shy away from anything. He can run behind his pads if he has to and he can play the power game if he needs to. There's nothing that's ... negative."
Acting like a kid: Barkley is a 19-year-old sophomore who still acts like a kid. He swayed loosely during pregame warmups, catching one-handed passes and posing for photos with fans in the stadium's first row. He always looks so light and unburdened on game days, as if the weight of expectation glances off his shoulders.
Yet he's asked about them constantly. He said so himself last week as the Lions were in Los Angeles preparing or the Rose Bowl.
Barkley was asked about the decisions made by Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU's Leonard Fournette to skip their bowl games and prepare for this year's NFL draft. Barkley had no such option as a sophomore, not that he thought about it anyway.
"I'm just focused on being 19 years old, having fun in college, playing for Penn State, enjoying times with my brothers," Barkley said.
Before that changes, let's enjoy what Barkley does on the field and off. As USC lined up the game-winning field goal, Barkley paced purposely up and down Penn State's sideline, shouting, "We've been here before."
Looking to future: Afterward, Barkley talked hopefully about the 2017 season, for which Penn State will return most of its offensive firepower. Barkley will be at the forefront of it. He's excited about it.
But if he's not looking ahead, others are doing it for him. Alibay Barkley said his son already has drawn attention from agents looking to lure him in their direction. The website nfldraftscout.com already rates Barkley as the No. 1 running back prospect for the 2019 draft. Assuming he lasts that long.
People want a piece of Barkley.
"We've seen it. It's starting to come," Alibay Barkley said. "But there's a triangle here. Saquon, me and my wife [Tonya Johnson]. That's it. To get to him, you've got to come through us."
Saquon Barkley grew up watching New York Jets games with his father, who proudly wears a Jets tattoo. At age 3, Barkley told his father that he wanted to be Jets running back Curtis Martin when he grew up.
Now, Barkley is on the verge of becoming an NFL running back. But first, he desperately wants to be a Penn State running back. He loves the school and team, and as he learns more of the program's history, he wants to be touchstone of it.
Father confident in his son: There's so much waiting for him. How will he handle it? Alibay Barkley is confident in his son.
"It could get harder, because all that outside noise is coming," he said. "But do I think my son is strong enough to go through this and what's about to happen? Yes. I think he's built for this."