Former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was selected No. 2 overall by the New York Giants on Thursday night in the 2018 NFL Draft. He spent three seasons carving up opponents in a Nittany Lions uniform and now is expected to be one of the first players off the board.
Barkley, who became a father on Tuesday, could soon emerge as an NFL sensation in the New York City media market, but his legacy is already cemented in State College.
He rushed for 3,843 yards (5.7 per carry) and 43 touchdowns in 38 college games. Barkley proved to be a versatile playmaker, recording 102 receptions for 1,195 yards and 8 touchdowns during his career, and returning 2 kickoffs for scores in 2017.
One of several Penn State standouts expected to be selected in the draft between Thursday and Saturday, Barkley will forever be a figure people associate with Nittany Lions football. He became the program’s most well-known player during a recent rise that featured 20 wins in 23 games, a 2016 Big Ten championship and Fiesta Bowl victory last season.
Before we discover what awaits in Barkley’s NFL future, let’s take a brief look back at his football origins.
Barkley didn’t spend his entire Whitehall (Pa.) High School career as a “can’t-miss” prospect. He earned a varsity role as a sophomore, in 2012, and gained 284 yards on the ground that season.
Despite limited production, his skill set caught the attention of collegiate coaching staffs. Rutgers emerged as an early suitor and secured Barkley’s verbal commitment in September 2013.
“When they first offered me (on Aug. 3, 2013), to be honest, I was gonna commit right on the spot,” he told Todderick Hunt of NJ.com after that decision. “When they first started recruiting me, it was my dream school. I got there and I loved it. I loved the coaches, I loved the offensive style and I just thought I would fit in well. And I was hoping they would offer me and they did.”
Six weeks later, former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien extended a scholarship offer.
By then, Barkley was in the middle of a junior season that featured 1,506 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Things evolved with the Nittany Lions staff, but O’Brien bolted for the Houston Texans job and that threatened to derail Barkley’s progression toward Happy Valley.
James Franklin arrived from Vanderbilt in January 2014. Following a whirlwind dash to National Signing Day, the new Nittany Lions coach turned his attention toward 2015 prospects.
Barkley made his second trip to campus — the first with Franklin in charge — in February 2014.
“We’re sitting in this meeting, and Coach Franklin got up and started talking to all the recruits,” Barkley told Jacqueline Kantor of PennLive.com in September 2015. “And he had this plan about dominating the state and then picking up pieces from around the country that could really help us out. And he was not just talking about national championships, or the Big Ten championships, but a plan laid out for the families.”
Less than one week later — on Feb. 19, 2014 — he flipped his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State.
Barkley showcased his skills on the camp circuit that offseason, earning an invitation to The Opening Finals at Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. It quickly became clear that he was a key component in Franklin’s first full-cycle recruiting class in State College.
Barkley rushed for 1,856 yards (8.6 per carry) and totaled 31 touchdowns as a senior. He wrapped up his recruitment by signing with Penn State in February 2015, and made an immediate impact in the Nittany Lions backfield seven months later.
Watch Barkley’s high school highlights here: