Saquon Barkley — Penn State running back, reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy contender — does everything on the field for the Nittany Lions.
With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, he can run. With 402 receiving yards and four touchdown grabs in 2016, he can catch.
Really, what’s there to improve? Well, Barkley believes he can enhance each part of his game this offseason — and the biggest change so far might be a surprise to some.
“I think I’ve grown a lot more in a leadership role, stepping up,” Barkley said, wearing a white cut-off Lift for Life shirt on Saturday morning outside Holuba Hall. “We’ve got great leaders on this team with Trace (McSorley), Nick (Scott) and Jason (Cabinda) and all those guys. But I’ve grown a lot more in that area.”
It’s not something Barkley has forced, either. To him, it’s been a natural progression.
The gifted tailback considered himself a leader as a true freshman. No, he wasn’t vocal. He wasn’t putting himself out there too much.
But he knew those leadership qualities existed. This offseason, those traits became more apparent.
“It comes as you grow, get experience, and become more comfortable with the guys on the team,” Barkley added. “...You lead by what you do. Don’t be late. Do the right things.”
And his teammates have taken notice.
Offensive lineman Andrew Nelson, who’s entering his fifth season in Happy Valley, is one of the Nittany Lions’ elder statesmen. He’s started 27 games in his career — and that number would be higher if not for injuries.
Nelson has long been a leader of not just the blockers, but the offense as a whole.
Sure, over the past couple years, he’s witnessed Barkley develop as a running back. But he’s also watched the Coplay native blossom off the field.
“He’s not afraid to be a voice on the team now,” Nelson said. “He’s not afraid. If guys aren’t touching the line (in sprints), he’ll tell them to go back and do the rep again. That’s what we need.”
Nelson noted that in high school, the elite players are normally the leaders of the team. That’s just how it works.
“But in college it’s not always that way,” the lineman said. “Just because you’re the best player doesn’t make you a leader. Saquon’s got both.”
Redshirt senior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton sees it, too.
Hamilton recognizes Barkley’s talent. The back is a projected top-five pick in the 2018 NFL draft for a reason.
But the wideout has been impressed with how Barkley puts that stuff aside. He doesn’t let it interfere with how he acts toward teammates or how he carries himself.
“Guys like him, he could take the easy road out,” Hamilton said. “Knowing how good his talent is, he could just bank on that and not have to be a leader or worry about anyone else. But he’s been the exact opposite.”
After last season, every casual college football fan knows Saquon Barkley.
They’re familiar with his elusiveness. They’ve seen his power. They know his potential.
But the Penn State star is still improving. He wants to become the complete package — and that means taking on a greater role within the team.
“I’m not in the College Football Hall of Fame. I’m not a Hall of Famer, so you can’t be satisfied,” Barkley said. “...I can continue to grow as a player, as a person, as a leader of this team.”