If you thought Saquon Barkley was fun to watch his first two seasons, get ready for a bigger, better version of college football’s most exciting running back.
“I wanted to focus on getting stronger and getting faster, and I think I was able to do that this offseason,” Barkley said Saturday at Beaver Stadium. “Our coaching staff and our strength staff did a really good job pushing me. I gained weight this year — I’m at 230 now. I ran a faster 40 (4.33) than I did in the past.”
There’s a certain hunger about Barkley. His relentless work ethic in the weight room translated to a 30-rep domination of 225 pounds on the bench press at Lift for Life. That would have tied him with Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine for the top mark of any running back at this year’s NFL combine.
While fans and pundits alike have showered Barkley with Heisman hype since January’s Rose Bowl, the Coplay, Pa., native hasn’t paid it much mind.
“To even be mentioned in that category, it’s an honor. I really don’t get too much of a rush from it because I’m really focused on the season,” Barkley said. “I’m just trying to be a better player, a better person, and a better leader every single day.”
The 5-foot-11 Barkley needs another 1,361 rushing yards to surpass Evan Royster for the all-time school record. He’s spent time this offseason analyzing the games of perhaps today’s two best running backs, as well as some Power Five peers.
“I love watching guys like Le’Veon Bell, Zeke Elliott, and I have much respect for guys like [Oregon’s] Royce Freeman and [LSU’s] Derrius Guice in college football.”
Barkley was invited out to Beaverton, Ore., to serve as a college counselor at Nike’s The Opening earlier this summer, where he forged a relationship with Florida State safety Derwin James, Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk, and even Odell Beckham Jr.
On Saturday, he seamlessly deflected the question that’s been on everyone’s mind about his NFL future. As expected, he has yet to make a decision on whether he’ll leave early for the draft once he’s eligible.
“I’m really just focused on this season and taking it day by day,” he said.
Barkley and graduate senior receiver DaeSean Hamilton worked together on route-running and footwork in the months leading up to preseason camp. Barkley’s game-winning touchdown in Indianapolis on the wheel route was just the beginning.
“I feel that, and coach Franklin would agree, that I’m capable of being lined up in the slot, being able to run routes,” Barkley said. “I did a lot of one-on-one reps this summer against the DBs and linebackers.”
Keeping Barkley healthy continues to be a top priority, but Franklin won’t shy away from unleashing his not-so-secret weapon on the competition in 2017. He probably won’t be returning kicks like Christian McCaffrey, but you’ll see Barkley do a little bit of everything else this fall.
“We’re going to use Saquon in every possible way we can to give us the best opportunity to win, short term and long term,” Franklin said.
Barkley’s position coach Charles Huff had high praise for his ability to nudge his teammates in the right direction at practice and meetings.
“We have a standard in the running back room. Saquon sets the standard,” Huff said. “He’s killing it in the classroom right now. That’s the type of kid he is.”
Barkley credits the support of his family as the main factor contributing to his success.
“My family plays a big role. Coach Franklin always tells us to have a ‘why.’ They’re my why. My mother, my father, my brothers, and sisters — I love them to death. Without my family I wouldn’t be the person that I am today,” Barkley said. “I’m really appreciative of them.”