Saquon Barkley wowed Nittany Lion fans on a weekly basis — but the Penn State coaching staff witnessed it every day. They became accustomed to breathtaking touchdown runs after a while. So forgive James Franklin and company if they're now a bit numb to watching Miles Sanders do the same thing.
"He'll make four people miss and go 80 (yards), and we're all like, 'Yawn, next play,'" Franklin said with a subtle shrug after Wednesday night's practice at Holuba Hall. "We've been a bit spoiled with Saquon Barkley the past couple years. But I do think Miles is in that conversation in terms of what he's been able to show and do so far."
While filling Barkley's shoes is an almost impossible task, Sanders has enjoyed a productive, positive offseason.
Strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt called Sanders a "stud" and "special kid" during winter workouts, and Franklin said the back has been "hungry to get on the field" and prove himself this spring. Sanders said himself that the past few weeks have "been going really good."
And not just from an on-field perspective. Sanders is stepping into his leadership role, too, even it's required a reacclimation period.
It's been a few years since teammates looked up to him, not the other way around. Sanders — a former five-star recruit — hasn't started since 2015, when he starred as a senior at Woodland Hills in Pittsburgh.
"I'm used to it from high school," Sanders said of taking on a leadership role. "But for me, not being a starter (at Penn State), I'm still getting back into it."
For Sanders, being a veteran "does feel a little weird." He's not an old head in the running back room. Not yet. That distinction falls to Johnathan Thomas and Mark Allen.
But impressionable youngsters, like redshirt freshman Journey Brown, are coming to Sanders for advice.
"I just told him, 'Hey, if you don't know something, just ask,'" Sanders said. "I was in that same position, asking Saquon, Mark, Andre (Robinson), asking them for advice. I know how it is."
As Sanders imparts wisdom, it checks off another box in his maturation process as a projected starter.
He already had the skillset necessary to lead a potent rushing attack. Penn State defensive end Ryan Buchholz is thankful the Nittany Lions are implementing a two-hand touch approach this spring. "I don't know how easy it would be to tackle him," he said with a laugh.
That, combined with the patience shown waiting behind Barkley and now the leadership qualities coming through, has the Nittany Lions buzzing about Sanders even more than they already were.
"I think he's pretty far along right now," Franklin said. "I know our defensive coaches and our team think very highly of him, of what he's done in the weight room and what he's done on the field so far."