Penn State Football

Saquon Barkley relives recruiting process, Penn State decision

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley runs with the ball during Saturday’s game against Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley runs with the ball during Saturday’s game against Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium.

Saquon Barkley, as a kid in the Lehigh Valley area, didn’t grow up a Penn State fan.

Go figure.

Barkley, a Coplay native, said the Nittany Lions would always be on TV, but he and his dad would try to catch Rutgers whenever they could.

Yes, the Scarlet Knights.

“If I would play the NCAA Football (video) game, I would use Rutgers,” Barkley said. “That was a school I wanted to go to growing up.”

And he nearly played for the Scarlet Knights, too.

Instead, Barkley, who put up 117 all-purpose yards against Rutgers in a 39-0 win Saturday, is the Nittany Lions’ offensive star on their run toward a possible 10-2 regular season and potential Big Ten Championship game berth — and he doesn’t regret coming to Happy Valley one bit.

Going into his junior year at Whitehall High School, Rutgers was the first school that offered him a football scholarship. Barkley accepted it on the spot, but realized soon after that it might not have been the correct decision.

“I went back and talked to my parents about it,” the running back said. “I was really the first one in my family ever presented with this opportunity.”

Plus, he still had that affection for the Scarlet Knights.

“I wanted to play there when I was little,” Barkley said. “I kind of jumped on the opportunity without even thinking about it.”

So what happened to make him flip his commitment to the Nittany Lions?

Barkley smiled.

“Things change,” the 19-year-old said. “You grow up.”

His pledge to Rutgers started to waver a bit in 2013, when he visited Penn State for the four-overtime win over Michigan. He watched in awe as Christian Hackenberg, Allen Robinson and the Nittany Lions rallied in the fourth quarter and later defeated the Wolverines.

“I was amazed,” Barkley said. “The fight that they had, they would never quit. That’s what you want. That’s the kind of program you want to play for.”

When James Franklin and his staff arrived at Penn State that offseason, Barkley’s interest piqued even more. He fell in love with Franklin and the staff, and knew he had to play for them.

“I love what they stand for,” Barkley said. “I love how you feel like you’re in a family environment when you’re here. That was the real key and big reason why I wanted to come here.”

It’s safe to say Barkley made the right choice. The sophomore, after taking over the starting role as a freshman, has 1,205 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground this season.

Prior to struggling at Indiana, Barkley was starting to gain Heisman Trophy consideration — and he’ll enter next season among a crop of legitimate candidates.

But before looking too far ahead, Barkley knows he has business to take care of this year.

The No. 7 Nittany Lions face Michigan State on Saturday; a win over the Spartans, coupled with Ohio State beating Michigan, will send Penn State to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

Barkley said the team’s goal coming into the season was to play for the conference championship, and that goal is in-line.

“We’ve got something special going right now. We know that. We’re aware of that,” Barkley said. “I’m just happy that I’m able to be a part of that. ... I’m so thankful that I’m able to play at this school. Coming to this school was the best decision of my life.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9