STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and ESPN’s College GameDay crew have arrived in Happy Valley as Saturday festivities approach. The former Michigan Wolverines star and Super Bowl MVP praised Penn State standout Saquon Barkley during a Friday afternoon discussion with media members.
“To me, he’s a football player’s football player,” Howard said. “He’s tough, can run between the tackles, hit the edge, catch the ball, he returns kicks.”
Howard, who earned college football’s most coveted award in 1991, played receiver for the Wolverines, but his success as a special teams returner helped him seal the deal as a Heisman recipient. Barkley embraced an opportunity to compete for first-team reps on special teams during the offseason. He broke through Sept. 30, returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to open the game against Indiana.
“When you have a talent like that who is willing to go on special teams and play kick returner, to me it speaks volumes about the type of teammate that he is,” Howard said. “He seems to be a selfless guy who wants to do whatever he can to help the team win a game. Because normally you don’t see that type of talent out there returning kicks, especially at the running back position. This is obviously a guy who is a workhorse for the Nittany Lions.”
Barkley has certainly earned the “workhorse” label this season, leading the Nittany Lions in rushing yards (649), receiving yards (395) and touchdowns scored (9). He ranks No. 1 among all FBS players in all-purpose yards per game (217).
“He’s such a great combination of a lot of different attributes that you rarely see in a running back,” Howard said. “He’s obviously powerful, but at the same time he has incredible balance.”
— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) October 8, 2017
Minutes before Howard discussed Barkley, fellow College GameDay broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit compared the Penn State playmaker to 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush in the open field “because of how he makes people miss”. Ultimately, though, Herbstreit admitted comparisons are difficult in this case.
“I think he’s in his own category with his skill set and what he does,” he said.
Barkley enters the second half of his junior season considered a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Howard, who has lived through his own Heisman hunt, shared the advice he would offer Barkley.
“Don’t change. Just do what you do,” he said. “I think that’s the most important part right now. Sometimes this type of pressure or stress can get to a player and impact him on the field. My advice to him would be to just take it one game at a time, do what you do, and focus on the task at hand, which is beating that opponent and executing the game plan to the best of your ability.”