In the 2018 NFL draft, the New York Giants selected Penn State’s Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall. The highly sought-after running back was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, totaling 5,557 all-purpose yards during his college career. His decision to play for the Nittany Lions did not come easy.
Barkley had committed to another school in his sophomore year and was having a hard time switching to Penn State. The young recruit says it was the hardest decision he ever had to make.
Barkley’s NFL rookie year
The Penn State football program helped set Barkley up for success in the NFL. The young running back attained 2,028 scrimmage yards his first year in the league. He became one of only a few NFL rookies to ever get over 2,000 yards in their first season.
In 2018, the Penn State alum had 91 receptions. He beat the franchise record in Week 2 with 14 catches, and made team history with 15 scrimmage touchdowns and 1,000 rushing yards. Barkley was selected for the 2019 Pro Bowl and named the 2018 NFL Rookie of the Year.
The decision to sign with Penn State
Penn State enjoyed a strong football program under the leadership of head coach Joe Paterno, who reigned there for 46 seasons. He was fired in 2011 after assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested for sexually abusing minors on campus. The scandal rocked Penn State, and many thought the football program would never bounce back.
In 2014, James Franklin took over as head coach and had the difficult task of rebuilding the reputation of the disgraced team. His first course of action was to bring in strong recruits, such as Saquon Barkley, who could transcend the face of the Lions and return them to a stature of national prominence.
Barkley had a phenomenal high school career and according to 247 Sports was ranked the No. 7 player in Pennsylvania and No. 21 in the country. Penn State desperately wanted to sign the rising star. The team stated, “Saquon was a human highlight reel during his senior year as he showcased world-class speed and eluded tacklers with incredible footwork.”
But, Barkley intended to play for Rutgers University in New Jersey. Two months into his new job, Coach Franklin persuaded the high school player to play for Penn State. The determined coach told them he planned to “dominate, educate, graduate.” This comforted Barkley’s parents, assuring that their son would be in good hands.
The running back’s father, Alibay Barkley, wanted his son to honor his commitment to Rutgers, reports The Morning Call. But after talking with Coach Franklin, he said, “He makes me feel like Saquon’s in the best hands. That’s a good feeling for a father to have, that another man is going to protect and encourage his son.”
Saquon Barkley’s guilt about switching schools
The four-star recruit had to make a tough decision when it came to choosing a college team. Barkley said, “I wanted to play for Rutgers growing up, that’s the school I wanted to play at, but I felt like Penn State provided more opportunity for me for the rest of my life. Sometimes you have to grow up and make decisions that are going to impact your life.”
After flipping his commitment to Rutgers, the 2018 NFL Rookie of the Year told NJ Advance Media: “It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I felt like I was going against my word, and that’s something that I was raised on, that my family raised me on… but, we had to look at the bigger picture.”
Penn State was ecstatic to sign the four-star recruit. The school said, “Barkley became the face of Penn State athletics during his breakout freshman year. He seemed to just magically appear as the savior of Penn State football.”