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Larry Johnson Talks Saquon Barkley, Life After Football

Legendary Penn State running back Larry Johnson thinks Saquon Barkley will become just the second player in program history to hoist the Heisman Trophy come December.

“I think he’s shown enough,” Johnson said. “He’s doing a lot more than just run the football. To be able to put the ball in his hands and he can create that much production, you have to give him the Heisman, because he doesn’t touch the ball every play. So to me, he should get the Heisman cause he does so much more when he does have it.”

Barkley enters Saturday’s showdown against Indiana as the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards with 1,013. His jaw-dropping performance in Iowa City last weekend helped him pass Johnson for seventh place on Penn State’s career rushing yardage list.

Johnson, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., captured every award a running back could dream of except the Heisman following an epic 2002 senior season that saw him rush for 2,087 yards. An eight-year NFL veteran, Johnson now spends his time facilitating access to art and music programs for the under-resourced youth of South Florida.

Johnson serves as chairman of The Motivational Edge Ambassadors Program, an organization that aims to boost creativity and allow the next generation to express itself through the arts. Johnson reaches out to potential sponsors, connects donors, and makes public appearances to help raise awareness.

On Saturdays, you can bet he has the Penn State game on, though. Johnson is more qualified than most to describe Barkley’s unique ability to make defenders miss in all manner of ways.

“Running backs, we’re like artists. One style’s more like Monet, another style is more like Picasso, so there’s different types of artists. We all have different styles,” Johnson said. “The only advice I could give him would be just to enjoy college, enjoy the moment, enjoy everything.”

Barkley’s now the betting favorite in Vegas to win the Heisman.

If the Nittany Lions are going to make their first College Football Playoff appearance this year, Johnson believes they’re going to need to start a little faster against Big Ten competition.

“I would say, for them to really make it, they have to stop being a second-half team and start putting these teams away,” Johnson said. “When there’s blood in the water, they should start taking these teams down in the first and second quarter. The good teams, automatically out the gate, wanna put you away.”

When news broke last week that Aaron Hernandez had advanced CTE, Johnson tweeted, “If he had it, I know for certain I’m living with it.”

While CTE can’t be diagnosed until after death, it’s a scary thought that more and more former players like Johnson will have to confront this ugly reality in the coming years. He’s not sure what the future holds for the sport he loves.

“I don’t know. Football’s gonna be football. Unless you take the pads off, not much is gonna change,” Johnson said. “Most of us already did our damage when we were 9 years old. All those types of things that we did, we were already traumatically damaged. Even in the league when I was with Dick Vermeil, we were in pads every day in two-a-days.”

On a lighter note, Johnson made sure to throw some shade at his siblings for wearing too much scarlet and gray on game days. When Penn State’s October 28 trip to Columbus rolls around, you can be sure he won’t be repping the Buckeyes.

“My brother and my sister, I swear they graduated from Ohio State. They be wearing Ohio State gear,” Johnson said. “I could never do that. They ride with my dad forever. But me, I’m gonna be blue and white regardless of where I’m at.”

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected].

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