For Barkley, Improvement Means More Than Stats

Nate Bauer, Senior Editor
Blue White Illustrated

In two years, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has set records, has emerged as an early Heisman candidate and is poised for an even bigger campaign as a junior. This spring, his role with the Nittany Lions has shifted beyond just stats and records. 

Among Penn State’s most thoughtful players, running back Saquon Barkley is tasked with fleshing them out on paper this spring.

Meeting with the media after the team’s fifth practice of the spring on Wednesday afternoon, Barkley said running backs coach Charles Huff has instituted the ritual before the robust group of talent takes to the field.

“We write on a piece of paper on our notes what we’re thankful for and our practice goals, whether it’s coming out and not dropping a single ball all practice, coming out and not missing a blitz at all, be perfect on your blitz pickups, come out and be a better leader,” said Barkley. “Pretty much something every single day.”

Barkley, an admitted self-motivator, said he has no trouble coming up with individual goals for individual practices.

Certainly, he’s proven as much to date.

With 2,572 career rushing yards, he’s already at No. 15 among Penn State’s all-time leaders. Evan Royster’s 3,932 yard record is just 1,360 yards away, records already set for freshman yards. Accolades have come rapidly, most recently earning multiple conference player of the week nods and the highest yards per game average in the Big Ten as a sophomore.

Already identified by Sports Illustrated and other publications as a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy next season, Barkley has other goals in mind.

Specifically, through the course of his interview this week, an area that repeatedly popped up as a focal point for the junior-to-be is the transition he intends to make into a leadership role. A spring break trip to the EXOS facility in Florida alongside Marcus Allen, DaeSean Hamilton and Mark Allen helped with the process, too.

Working out with Dallas Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott at the facility, Barkley identified some of the areas from which he took the most knowledge.

“I gained a lot. Obviously his system is different than our system and what the Cowboys do is not what we do on offense,” said Barkley. “But, basically how to be a leader, how to lead a team, how to come to practice every single day and how to be a pro. Obviously I’m still in college but if you can be a pro about your body and pro about how you approach practice and how you try to be a better leader, you’ll just be a better player.”

Taking his cues from offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who has pushed Barkley and other veteran Lions to be vocal in their approach to team-wide improvement, Barkley said he’s working to share his knowledge gained. In a room he identified as competitive but still extremely close, that has meant offering up little pieces of advice wherever possible.

“Coach JoeMo just kind of told us that great teams have players that are able to coach other players up and have players that are willing to be coached. So I just try to take the knowledge that I have from the two years that I’ve bene playing and not only myself but Marcus, Hammy, Mike and all the older guys that have experience,” said Barkley. “We try to give them advice and try to teach them what to do on this play or the little thing you can do to instead of taking a negative, make it a positive.”

On the precipice of an immense amount of praise and preseason hype, these are the true motivators for Barkley moving forward. Asked about the impact of those potential honors, Barkley rejected the very notion of individual achievement having an impact on his mindset.

Said Barkley, “I’m so invested in myself and this team that I want to be the best I can be and to be the best I can be to try to help this team win games.”

What to Read Next