Saquon Barkley could have taken part in an autograph signing ahead of the Super Bowl, basking in his soon-to-be NFL fame during the biggest sporting spectacle of the year. But the former Penn State star wanted to beat up his body in a training center in Orlando, Fla., instead.
“If I have anything that conflicts with my training or working out or that’s taking away from me getting better – especially at that time [of the Super Bowl] where I only had such a short period of time to get ready for the combine – I won’t do it,” Barkley said. “It is what it is.”
The former Penn State standout was a notorious nice guy during his collegiate career, often posing for pictures and signing autographs for hours on end. He wanted to please everyone and leave people with a smile. Barkley’s been described as a “people pleaser” by those who know him best, and while it’s an admirable quality, it also figured to make for one of his toughest challenges as he heads toward the NFL where everyone is vying for his time and his attention.
Signing with Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, holding an endorsement deal with Nike and completing one round of media availabilities after the other has opened Barkley’s eyes to a world that’s both exhilarating and exhausting. Flying from coast to coast, he’s trying to strike that balance while training around the clock and taking a pair of online courses through Penn State’s world campus.
It’s all part of his new reality. Count saying no as part of that new normal, too.
“It’s been pretty neat,” Barkley said, adding that he now thinks of himself as a businessman who is building his brand. “[It’s] not overwhelming. When it gets to that point, that’s when I cut it off. If I ever feel like the things I’m doing outside of football are demanding too much attention from me becoming a better player, that’s when it’s going to get cut off easily. I surrounded myself with a great team, with my agent Kim [Miale] and my managers and all them. They won’t even allow me to put myself in that position.
“If they ever felt like they’re throwing too much at me, they’ll back off themselves and they know that I’m confident enough to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m not doing that,’ ” he continued. “I’ve turned down things already. … We have a really good relationship, a really good bond. It’s kind of like our little three-way calls are like a family fighting, but it’s all good. That part of it is fun and it’s exciting.”
After Barkley was home in Coplay, Pa., for a parade honoring him last weekend, it was time to fly back out to Los Angeles for media obligations on Monday and Tuesday. He said he’ll be on a few shows in the lead-up to the April draft, but will continue being selective with his media and marketing opportunities, all while flying around to meet with NFL teams.
He’s already located a training facility in Los Angeles so he can stay in top shape while he’s out there. If he has marketing opportunities in the morning, then he’ll plan his schedule so he can work out in the afternoon. If someone needs him to pose for a camera or do an interview in the afternoon, he’ll wake up early to train in the morning. After all, without training and staying healthy, all these opportunities could be taken off the table in a heartbeat.
An NFL Films camera crew has been following Barkley around for the last few months because he’ll play a prominent role on their annual show ‘Hey Rookie.’ He’ll also be part of ESPN’s new series ‘QB2QB’ which airs the week before the draft. ‘QB2QB,’ or ‘QB2RB’ as Barkley’s 30-minute episode is titled, will feature Barkley and a few other rookies as they sit down for 1-on-1 interviews with Russell Wilson. All of that filming will happen before he heads to Dallas to be on hand for the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft on April 26.
While his agent and manager try to protect him, Barkley is still choosing spots where he can be overly gracious with his time. Such was the case Saturday afternoon after the parade, as people waited in line in a park for 2½ hours for a chance to get pictures taken with him. While security tried to wrap it up, Barkley kept on smiling and posing anyway.
“I want to be able to build my brand and be able to represent my school, Penn State, and my family,” he said. “I just got to continue to try to handle myself in the right way.”