Saquon Barkley — arguably the greatest player to ever wear the blue and white after three thrilling seasons — has concluded his breathtaking, record-setting Penn State career.
Barkley announced Sunday night that he’s leaving Happy Valley early and heading for the NFL.
The finalist for the Maxwell, Doak Walker and Camp awards will declare early for the NFL draft as a junior — and is expected to be selected early in the first round.
“I hope I have left a lasting impression on this University, football program and community at large,” Barkley wrote in a statement. “It has been an honor and privilege to be able to call Penn State home and represent the Blue & White and all of the great players who came before me and will follow after me. I will continue to work each and every day to continue to represent Penn State the right way as I move on to the next phase of my life.”
Barkley leaves behind a lasting legacy, one that puts him in the conversation as the Nittany Lions’ best running back in a history that spans three centuries and started in 1887. He finishes with 3,843 rushing yards, 43 rushing touchdowns, 1,195 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs. He also has 500 kick return yards and a pair of scores.
After a 137-yard performance in Saturday night’s Fiesta Bowl — in which he brought Nittany Lion fans to their feet one final time with a 92-yard scoring sprint — Barkley ends up second all-time on Penn State’s rushing charts, just behind Evan Royster.
Royster told the CDT back in November that he hoped Barkley would break his record. He said it would be something he could brag about, that someone “special” like Barkley would pass him.
Royster was hardly the first to praise the Coplay native — and he won’t be the last, either.
For about two years now, Penn State head coach James Franklin has called Barkley “one of the better, if not the best, football players” he has ever been around. Franklin said it at countless press conferences, and he meant it every time.
But Franklin also saw Barkley in a light outside of football. Everyone from reporters to teammates to fans knew Barkley’s personality and understood what kind of presence he was when the ball wasn’t in his hands. He cared about his teammates, deflected praise whenever possible and always gave credit where credit sometimes wasn’t recognized.
Franklin saw that human side of Barkley more than most.
“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,” Franklin said. “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.”
Barkley’s teammates feel honored to have played with him, too.
Senior wide receiver Saeed Blacknall called Barkley “the best football player I’ve ever seen in person.” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, Barkley’s backfield mate for two years, said it was “special being able to play with a guy like him.”
Senior guard Brendan Mahon watched Barkley grow from a bubbly freshman that burst onto the scene with 195 yards at Ohio State to a power-clean monster taking college football by storm. And Mahon maintained that watching No. 26 dust defenders was his favorite sight in the world.
“I’m going to miss blocking for Saquon,” Mahon said at his locker after the Fiesta Bowl. “Seeing 26 in the open field is a special feeling.”
From the hurdles to the shimmies and jump cuts, that “special feeling” was captured every time Barkley touched the ball.
After jumping over a Buffalo defender in his second-ever collegiate game, Barkley again turned heads early on with his “I believe I can fly” hurdle as a freshman against Illinois.
As a sophomore, Barkley’s 79-yard touchdown dash at the Rose Bowl captivated a national audience and confirmed what every Penn State fan already knew: This kid is something else.
As a junior, his record 358 all-purpose yards at Iowa in September wasn’t much of a surprise. If anything, it was a shocker that he hadn’t already set Penn State’s all-time mark.
Now, an NFL franchise and its fan base get to experience what it’s like to have Barkley’s greatness on display every Sunday.
Despite being snubbed by the Heisman Trophy voters, Barkley leaves Happy Valley as arguably the best player in college football.
“God has blessed me with the opportunity to pursue the dream I have had since I was a little kid of playing in the NFL,” Barkley wrote, thanking his support system. “... After lots of thought, prayer and conversation with those closest to me, I have decided to forgo my senior season and enter the NFL draft.”
Wherever he ends up, Barkley will have a blue-and-white fanbase already at his back.