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Penn State Football: Barkley Something Special In The Making As Personality Grows

by on August 04, 2016 4:00 PM

Saquon Barkley already had a following by the time he hit the field at media day on Thursday afternoon. At least three reporters had spotted him working his way down the Beaver Stadium tunnel among his teammates.

They trailed him for almost 30 yards before he was finally swept up by Penn State athletics for an in-house interview streaming across the nation on a live Media Day internet feed. 

It's quite the world we live in.

But when his five minutes were up Barkley made his way back out into a crowd of reporters already waiting for him underneath a sign that clearly read "RBs" -- a space essentially reserved for Barkley. Mark Allen was taking a Spanish test and in turn not in attendance, Miles Sanders isn't eligible to speak to the media as a freshman. So that left just Barkley and Andre Robinson, who to his credit, was speaking to a few media members himself.

And then for the next 40 minutes Barkley was questioned from quite literally every angle. The interview started with Barkley standing on the turf surrounding the field, but by midway through the session the crowd, rarely smaller than 15-deep, had slowly worked Barkley back toward a bench where he sat and looked up at a wall of microphones looking to capture every word.

If Barkley had been smarter, or perhaps simply seasoned, he may have taken a page out of Christian Hackenberg's playbook. The then-junior entered what would be his final media day, just a few minutes late, working his way inconspicuously toward the back of the field where he sat on a bench, hat drawn low.

Hoping nobody sees you?

"Yea" Hackenberg laughed quietly.

What Hackenberg learned over his time at Penn State was simple: Be straightforward, be honest, but never stray too far from the company line. Hackenberg never turned down an interview request, but he was always on some level guarded, and rightfully so. He was in an impossible spot, a quarterback tasked with carrying an entire team on his back despite a lot of reasons why he was probably always doomed to fail. Even so, he more often than not shouldered a lot of the blame.

The result was an odd relationship between him and the media. Hackenberg was gracious and gave everyone the time they needed, but he was also subjected to a lot. A lot of questions that he shouldn't have had to answer simply because Penn State never made John Donovan available, and he had to answer a lot of questions that didn't always line up with the reality in which the program was operating. Hackenberg was as much spokesperson as he was a quarterback and a player, so he stayed on message and he gave enough without giving away too much.

That's what might just make Saquon Barkley the biggest star Penn State has had, maybe ever, and in the very least in the modern era. He is one of the best in the nation at what he does, something James Franklin is now openly stating as fact. Barkley has the personality to match and the rare role as Penn State's single best player who will likely, unless overcome with fumbling issues, never truly be given the blame for the Nittany Lions' struggles. That's something Hackenberg never had, his fame was two steps forward and one step of what-have you-done-for-me-lately. He was as beloved as he was scapegoated. It's hard to see the same happening to Barkley.

When he does well he will be a star, and when Penn State struggles the finger won't be pointed at him. It's a perfect recipe, a perfect alchemy of personal touch without every being cast as the one to blame. A poorly timed fumble or a missed third-and-2 and his next game is his redemption. A big game and his star only shines brighter. If and when Barkley manages to make noise against Kent State and Pitt early in the season, it might be a supernova.

Fast forward 40 some minutes later and Barkley is still smiling, the crowd has finally dwindled down to just a few as most of the team leaves the field.

So how did it go?

"It has been pretty cool," Barkley said. "Over there [with Penn State's live stream] I was a little nervous, a little shaky. I don't know why, it's our guys, but I think maybe because it was on live internet or something like that. But when i got here and sat down people crowded around me and I was like "Woah ok, it's gonna be a long day.'"

"But it's just talking, and I love talking. So I've only gotten more comfortable and I'm smiling and laid back talking about football, what I love to talk about."

And from there Barkley just smiles. It's hard to blame him. He's already the most liked player on the team and is only just now getting to show his personality to rest of the world. Maybe he becomes a little less open as the years drag on, and maybe the novelty of being in the spotlight will wear off. But if the first few months of Barkley in the public eye are any indication, Penn State has something special on its hands, something that turns four years of a bright story into four years of history that nobody forgets.

But enough about the future, it's back to present.

What was your most asked question?

"Probably special teams," Barkley said. "And then if I'm worried about injuries."

"Can you do it again?" one reporter asked with a smile. "I wasn't here for that."

"Alright." Barkley responded as he smiled in return, dusting off the same answer one more time.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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