NEW YORK — One day after Penn State head football coach James Franklin was named in a lawsuit by a former University physician claiming he was pressured to rush injured players back onto the field, Giants running back Saquon Barkley shared a much different experience.
As a freshman, Barkley suffered an ankle injury in Week 4 of the 2015 season and now credits Franklin for keeping him from making a shortsighted decision at the time.
“I personally wanted to get back on the field as fast as I could,” Barkley told NJ Advance Media Tuesday at the NFL100 kickoff event. “And play as fast as I could. James Franklin was awesome for me. I tried to force it and he just wouldn’t allow me force it. I sat out the next two weeks and was able to come out and be healthy the rest of the season.”
Despite sitting out against Army and Indiana the two weeks following his injury, Barkley went on to rush for 1,076 yards in 11 games as a freshman. Three years later, Barkley was the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
“Coach Franklin’s been nothing but a role model and mentor to me,” Barkley said. “I feel like he’s part of my family.”
Admitting that he can’t speak for every player to come through the Penn State football program, Barkley says that he never felt pressured to play hurt.
Barkley also revealed Tuesday that he plans on returning to Penn State to finish his degree, keeping a promise he made to his parents and to Franklin.
“For me, James Franklin is great mentor and a great coach,” Barkley said. “My time at Penn State was amazing to me, and to all of my teammates, from what I know.”
Others also defend Franklin: Barkley is not the only former player to come to Franklin's defense.
Linebacker Jason Cabinda, now with the Oakland Raiders, tweeted: “Lemme go ahead and save y’all the time of speculating … this is complete and total BS straight up.”
Cabinda’s mother, Natalie, also tweeted in support of Franklin: “I don’t think any coach cares about his players like coach Franklin. He treats them like his sons.”
Austyn Carta-Samuels, who played quarterback for Franklin at Vanderbilt, said the coach helped him after he was injured.
“I was James Franklin’s QB in 2013 & tore my ACL in Game 7,” he tweeted. “I wanted to play on it. Three weeks later I was cleared by the doctors to play at Florida. Franklin thought I was rushing it & chose to protect me & told me I’d start vs Kentucky the next week. Be better.”
Jen Simmons, the mother of redshirt junior defensive end Shane Simmons, who missed five games last season with an undisclosed injury, said of the lawsuit, “This is ABSURD!!!
“Absolute and total BS!!!” she tweeted. “As a parent of a son with an injury, @coachjfranklin and the entire staff have been nothing but supportive of our players and have their best interest at heart. None of this is true.”
The lawsuit: According to a report from PennLive, Dr. Scott A. Lynch claims in a lawsuit filed in Dauphin County Court that Franklin repeatedly tried to influence his decisions regarding whether hurt players were fit to play.
Lynch contends that his complaints about Franklin’s supposed interference prompted Penn State officials to remove Lynch from his two posts charged with safeguarding the health of student athletes.
Lynch was removed as Orthopedic Physician for the football team and Director of Athletic Medicine for the university in March.
He is seeking more than $50,000 in damages from the university in his suit. He claims Penn State officials violated his rights as a whistleblower.
"As always, the health and well-being of our student athletes is of the utmost importance to us.” Franklin told reporters Tuesday.
The Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this report.