Saquon Barkley on youth camp at Penn State
Saquon Barkley heard it all Saturday. You’re my idol. You’re my favorite player. I want to be like you. Barkley — always humble, typically smiling — deflected praise all day at Holuba Hall, where he hosted 600 kids at his first-ever youth football camp.
“I just told them no. Never try to be like someone. Be better than me. Don’t try to be the next someone. Be the next you,” the former Nittany Lion said. “You can do whatever you want in life. As long as you put your mind to it, anything is possible.”
Standing in the practice facility that helped make him who he is today, Barkley’s words were fitting.
The face of Penn State’s return to national prominence came home Saturday. Well, to one of his three homes. Barkley grew up in Whitehall and now resides in New Jersey while starring for the New York Giants. But in between those two stops was State College, where Saquon became Saquon.
“This is where I feel like I shaped myself into the player I am today,” Barkley said, looking around the indoor facility with a wide smile. “The winter workouts, being here at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, spring ball and camp, those are the things that shaped me. And in general, being a Penn State athlete, understanding the four core values, understanding to compete and sacrifice — taking that stuff to the NFL is the reason why I’ve been successful.”
And make no mistake, Barkley has been successful. The Giants won five games last year, but Barkley was a bright spot. After racking up 2,028 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns, the former Nittany Lion was named the Pepsi Rookie of the Year and FedEx Ground Player of the Year.
And that’s just his on-field impact. Off it, Barkley has become a pop culture celebrity — from spending his birthday with Jay-Z and P Diddy to starring in the NFL’s Super Bowl LIII halftime commercial, commemorating the league’s 100-year history.
Barkley said he hasn’t been starstruck much outside of meeting Tom Brady at the Met Gala and seeing Colin Kaepernick at a charity event hosted by rapper Quavo. But he admitted that the Super Bowl commercial was a “humbling experience,” one that caused him to reflect on how far he’s come.
“They broke it down that I’m the one ending the commercial — the one jumping off into the future. And I was just like, ‘Wow.’ That was another moment that I realized I’m really here,” Barkley said. “I’m in the NFL, surrounded by Franco Harris, Barry Sanders, LT (LaDainian Tomlinson). To be the guy to finish the commercial, running off into the future, that meant the world to me.”
It was appreciated by the running back, and it was a savvy move by the NFL. Barkley, whose No. 26 jersey was the league’s top seller before he played a down, is on his way to becoming a face — if not the face — of the NFL for years to come.
But the commercials, endorsement deals and fame hasn’t changed the fact that Barkley enjoys returning to his roots.
In October, he showed up on the sidelines for Penn State’s 2018 Homecoming game wearing a Trace McSorley jersey. He supported McSorley, Miles Sanders, Nick Scott and more at February’s Pro Day. When he did, he slept on Koa Farmer’s couch the night before instead of shelling out a couple hundred bucks for a hotel room. And just this weekend, when walking through the Lasch Football Building, Barkley saw his face on the All-American wall — a dream of his when he was a true freshman four years ago.
Despite the stardom, Barkley said he tries to remain grounded and “not get too caught up in the hype.” And for one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, the best place to do that is, oddly enough, Penn State.
“I know whenever I come here, they’re people who genuinely care about me,” Barkley said. “They knew me before I was Saquon or whatever you want to say. I know I’m able to come back home to family. ... This is where it all started.”