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Miles Sanders, Saquon Barkley Reflect On Penn State Careers Before First NFL Reunion

It’s not all that often that a college football team has running backs taken during the first two rounds of the NFL Draft in back-to-back seasons — which speaks to just how impressive Penn State’s running back room has been in recent years.

Saquon Barkley was taken as the No. 2 overall pick by the New York Giants in the 2018 NFL Draft, and Miles Sanders was scooped up at No. 53 by the Philadelphia Eagles just a year later.

The former teammates will face off against each other on Monday Night Football at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. While Barkley has already solidified his status as a superstar, he and the Giants are having a bit of a down year. The second-year pro currently has 544 total rushing yards on the season for just two touchdowns — a stark contrast from when he finished his rookie season with 1,307 yards on the ground and 11 scores.

Sanders, on the other hand, has put together a promising rookie campaign for the Eagles. The Pittsburgh native has been splitting carries with Jordan Howard for the majority of the season, but is still managing to total 520 yards on the ground for a solid 4.5 yards per carry.

It may be hard to imagine now that these players spent parts of their college careers together, but while Barkley was shining, Sanders watched from the sidelines. The younger running back spent his freshman and sophomore seasons barely getting into games as Barkley broke records for Penn State — something that Sanders still finds extremely valuable today.

Both running backs talked with NBC Sports Philadelphia to discuss the upcoming matchup and reminisced on how much they pushed each other to work harder as competing backs.

“Every single day [in college] I’m bringing out the best of him, he’s bringing the best out of me,” Sanders said. “Everything didn’t go how I expected. It just didn’t go my way, but that didn’t change the way I felt about him or anything. Unbelievable player. Everybody knows that, the whole world knows that, nothing but respect for him. The relationship is really good.”

In looking back at those early days of competition, Barkley had high praise for his fellow Nittany Lion.

“When he first got to campus, little things like drills we would do, 7-on-7s, his ability to catch the ball, you knew from the get-go he was going to be a tremendous player,” Barkley said. “It didn’t go how he wanted it to go. He probably wanted more reps or more carries while we were there at Penn State. But he was the same guy. He always had that same work ethic and that same mentality that he wanted to be a lead back in college football one day, and he turned out to be one.”

Sanders’ time spent behind Barkley clearly paid off, as he rushed for 1,274 total yards and nine touchdowns during his junior season in 2018. His impressive season allowed him to leave Penn State early and enter the NFL Draft.

History aside, both of the Pennsylvania natives are psyched to see each other on one of the NFL’s biggest stages Monday.

“It’s going to be real special,” Sanders said. “I remember talking about this even before the season started when we were guessing where I would end up. I told him if I’m with the Eagles, we’d get to see each other twice a year.”

Despite the excitement, Sanders still remains focused on the task at hand. It’s clear that James Franklin’s 1-0 mentality rubbed off on the running back.

“But really, at the end of the day I’d be pretty selfish to tell you that I’m focused on Saquon,” Sanders said. “We’ve got some stuff to handle. We’ve got to handle business. It’s going to be fun, but I’m mainly focused on something else.”

The two backs will meet again when Philadelphia travels to the Meadowlands to take on the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, December 29 at 1 p.m.

NBC Sports Philadelphia’s full article on the Penn State duo can be read here.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is Onward State's assistant sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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