TV cameramen stood on media room chairs to get a view over the horde of reporters surrounding Penn State’s crown jewel — arguably the most talented player in college football and Nittany Lion history — who was minutes removed from possibly playing his final game at Beaver Stadium.
As recorders and notebooks closed in on him, Saquon Barkley sat back with the crisp, boyish smile that’s become as signature as hurdling helpless defenders.
“I’m not going yet, guys,” said the junior tailback, who’s No. 1 on Mel Kiper’s NFL draft big board. “There’s hopefully plenty more to come.”
The sure-fire first-round draft choice claims he hasn’t made a decision to stay or go yet. Barkley and James Franklin had a conversation in the offseason about his future, and the head coach said he already told the back what he should do. What that is, he wouldn’t share Saturday night after Penn State cleaned Nebraska’s clock 56-44.
But thousands of fans showed up in blue and white ponchos, ignoring the elements the best they could, to get another look at Barkley — possibly the greatest player to grace the grass in Happy Valley.
Barkley should’ve taken a bow after a three-touchdown, 224-yard spectacle.
“If this was my last game in Beaver Stadium, would it be a satisfying way to go out?” Barkley said softly, repeating a question asked to him. “I would say yes. It would be satisfying because we sent the seniors off the right way. We got to play one more time in Beaver Stadium with Hammy (DaeSean Hamilton) and those guys. So I guess you could say it would be. But that’s not what I’m thinking about. That’s not my emotions right now.”
Barkley is at least trying to stay focused on the present. Despite being peppered by questions about what lies ahead, the Coplay native shrugged it all off.
The kid who never wants the attention to be on himself mentioned the senior class multiple times in a 12-minute postgame scrum. He was happy he could play for Hamilton, Mike Gesicki, Jason Cabinda, Marcus Allen and the like. In last year’s senior game, a commanding win over Michigan State, he couldn’t finish the game due to a minor injury.
“I was almost in tears,” Barkley recalled.
But Saturday was all smiles for Barkley, the seniors, his coaches and those soggy, soaked fans.
Barkley’s endeared himself with Penn State fans over the years with his unpredictability, his eye-popping moments. He logged another on the third play from scrimmage, leaving the entire Nebraska defense stunned after a 65-yard touchdown run into the south end zone.
That play brought a drenched stadium to life.
It wasn’t the last time, either. Barkley had two more touchdowns — a pair of red-zone bursts. All three of his scores came in the first half, and Barkley outgained Nebraska 208-77 in the opening two quarters.
In the process, he scored his 39th career rushing touchdown, passing Lydell Mitchell and setting a new Penn State record.
“It’s special,” quarterback Trace McSorley said, “being able to play with a guy like him.”
Added Franklin: “Everybody talks about the yards, the touchdowns, the hurdles, but for the people that have been able to get to know Saquon Barkley, he’s a better person. ... He’s been fantastic. I’m very, very proud of him and his total development since he’s arrived on our campus. ... Blessed to have coached him.”
Franklin, who mentioned mentoring Barkley in the past tense, played it off later in the press conference. He said he used the past tense because he was talking about the game that was just played.
But everyone at Beaver Stadium on Saturday knew deep down that this would more than likely be the final time Barkley suits up at Beaver Stadium. And to his credit — like he has throughout his career — the back gave thousands something to hold onto.
Barkley’s not finished yet at Penn State. As long as he’s healthy, the junior said he’ll play in Penn State’s bowl game.
But Saturday was a step toward the end of a remarkable Nittany Lion career.
“We’ve got two more games left,” Barkley said with a smile. “Hopefully we can make more memories at Maryland.”