SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Saquon Barkley gathered his big family Sunday morning at their Scottsdale hotel and asked everyone the questions one last time: Are we still going to do this? Do you still support me?
When they all said, “Absolutely,” that’s when Barkley knew for sure. That’s when the Whitehall High graduate who turned himself into one of the best running backs in Penn State history said it “slapped me in the head.”
So on Sunday night, Barkley announced on social media he will forgo his final season of college eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
“I hope I have left a lasting impression on this University, football program and community at large,” Barkley said in his statement. “It has been an honor and privilege to be able to call Penn State home and represent the Blue & White and all of the great players who came before me and will follow after me. I will continue to work each and every day to continue to represent Penn State the right way as I move on to the next phase of my life.”
Barkley capped one of the most prolific offensive careers in Penn State history Saturday by rushing for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-27 victory over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl. The two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year set 10 school records, including career all-purpose yards (5,538), total touchdowns (53) and rushing touchdowns (43).
He became the first player in Penn State history, and fourth in Big Ten history, to amass 3,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards. Barkley joined Evan Royster as the only two Penn State running backs with three 1,000-yard seasons.
In a telephone interview Sunday night, Barkley said he planned to enter the NFL draft since before the season, based on conversations with his family and Penn State coach James Franklin. Scouts and NFL analysts consider Barkley the best running back of the 2018 draft and a top-10 pick.
Barkley said he held back from announcing his intentions to keep the attention on Penn State’s bowl game and also to “live in the moment” while in Arizona.
“We kind of knew what we were doing, but that’s when we knew for sure,” Barkley said of the family meeting. “Everything I’ve ever dreamed of is coming full circle.”
Franklin was integral in helping Barkley make his decision. Before the season, the coach advised Barkley to take advantage of his opportunity this year.
“I have the chance to pursue my dream, bring generational wealth — you still have to be smart and handle your money right — and be able to change my life and my family’s life forever,” Barkley said from California, where he will attend the Rose Bowl on Monday. “I’m really appreciative to coach Franklin for being supportive of my decision.
“A lot of coaches could be selfish, even if they know what’s best for you, and try to convince you to come back. Coach Franklin is a very special person to me. He believes in me. He believes that I’m going to have a chance to be something special.”
Barkley, who said he is “still figuring out” details regarding his agent, will begin training for the NFL combine in Orlando later this week. He holds every Penn State skills-testing record among running backs and said his combine goal is to run the 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds. His best time was a 4.33 at Penn State.
“To do that at my size, I think that would be pretty impressive,” he said. “I’m going to work my butt off for that, try to kill it. That killer mentality I have on the football field, I’ll take the same mindset to the weight room.”
Barkley didn’t accomplish everything in his Penn State career that he wanted, which left him reflective. He didn’t finish his degree in journalism, though his parents (Alibay Barkley and Tonya Johnson) and Franklin made him promise that he will.
Second, he didn’t help bring a national championship to Penn State, which was his chief goal for the season. Third, he didn’t quite reach the school’s career-rushing record, finishing with 3,843 yards, 89 behind Royster’s mark.
He can’t revisit the football goals, but Barkley said he will graduate.
“It’s very important to me,” Barkley said. “In my household, I will be one of the first people to get a college degree. There’s something about that school and that program that makes a degree special. It opens a lot of doors. The NFL is fun, and you can make a lot of money, but it will end. You definitely have to have a backup plan.
“So I made a promise to my mom and dad and coach Franklin and coach [Charles] Huff [Penn State’s former running backs coach] that I will get my Penn State degree.”
Barkley said he feels prepared for the NFL. In three years at Penn State, he turned himself into a 230-pound runner who has power, speed, sharp moves and an ability to catch the football.
Barkley also said he’s willing to play wherever he’s drafted.
“I don’t care what the situation is,” he said. “You’re getting blessed with the opportunity to play in the NFL and change your family’s life. So at the end of the day, you have to make the best of your opportunity. No matter what team picks you up, even if it may not be the quote-unquote ‘best situation’ for you, you’ve got to find a way to work and be a good teammate. You never know: You could be a game-changer in that organization.”
Barkley arrived at Penn State in the summer of 2015, when he quickly made an impact at the Lift For Life charity event. On Saturday night, one of Penn State’s most popular players circled University of Phoenix Stadium, high-fiviing as many fans as he could.
“It’s hard to leave,” Barkley said. “That’s home. It’s another place I’ll be able to call home.”
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