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Penn State Football: For All The Changes, Barkley Still Barkley

by on May 18, 2019 1:55 PM

The advertisements were suffocating.

Pizza Hut, Penn State, Dick's Sporting Goods, Welch's grape snacks, a silent auction and finally Saquon Barkley making money off of Saquon Barkley t-shirts.

For the over 600 kids that attended Barkley's first-ever football camp, the commercialism likely went over their heads as they took the Lasch Building practice fields to learn from one of the NFL's biggest stars.

But for everyone else, it was clear: Saquon Barkley is a brand as much as he is a football player.

The irony is that much of this probably wasn't of his own choosing. He just plays football and happens to be very good at it, the rest came as a result of that fact.

It's hard not to wonder how that changes a person, especially someone like Barkley who played through his career at Penn State partially oblivious to his own greatness. A year ago he had little to his name, now he could buy James Franklin's house. That has to change a person, even just a little bit.

With everyone wanting a piece of Saquon, what pieces are left over for the man himself?

The answer appears to be that the most important parts.

"How many touchdowns did you have this year?" a camper asked him during a Q&A session.

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Stumped, Saquon had no idea, asking someone else for the answer. The same result when a camper asked him what his record for yards in a single game is. He had to ask. 

It might seem like a small thing, but if anyone who has spent time around Saquon the past few years wanted proof that he hadn't changed that much, it was him not knowing his own stats. 

"It's crazy, coming here and playing," Barkley said later. "This is where I practiced for three years of my life. Seeing myself grow from a little kid to a man during winter workouts. Coach Franklin and Coach Huff yelling in my face. It's just funny to come back and be able to coach these kids, it's just great to come back and give back."

Of course to say nothing has changed would be to overlook the obvious. Barkley is a father, exceptionally wealthy, the star of a Super Bowl commercial and the face of a franchise in the world's largest and least forgiving sports market. The changes have not stopped, and to assume nothing about Barkley has changed along with it would be naive.

Even so, he appears relaxed and no different than the person who spent three seasons at Penn State saying yes to every picture and yes to every conversation.

"This is home for me," Barkley added. "Home is back in Whitehall too and home is in New Jersey right now. I know every time I come back here I know there are people who cared about me, before I was 'Saquon' or whatever you want to say. So I know I can come back, that's why I like coming back. Seeing my former teammates and seeing the guys now who are going to take on the ropes. I'm happy and excited and I love coming back.....When I come back here this is where it all started, it started in Whitehall, but this is where I feel like I shaped myself into the player who I am today."

Saquon certainly doesn't regret his choice — how could he? — but between his appearances at the Blue White game, Pro Day and constant Penn State support on Twitter, it's clear that his chapter in State College is one he has not put behind him. Nor is it a chapter he plans on forgetting as his star rockets higher towards bigger and better things.

Home will always be 201 Hastings Road in State College.

"I try and tell these guys here, enjoy, live in the moment," He said. "Because it's going to fly by, you're going to wish you were back in college even when you're in the NFL having lots of success. It's not the same, the brotherhood is not the same. Coming back here, it takes you back. You get to walk down the hall and see my face on the wall and those were goals I wanted to set when I got here as a freshman, I wanted to be on the All-American wall, I wanted to be on the Big Ten wall. Being able to accomplish that and now that it's in the past and being able to reflect on that means the world to me."

All of this is a reminder of an untold story: Barkley standing in the end zone prior to his breakout performance against Rutgers years ago. Barkley was supposed to be fielding punts during warm ups, except he wasn't.

"Aren't you doing this?" a teammate asked him.

"I can't," Barkley replied. "There are too many people watching."

Many games, touchdowns, photos and autographs later, Barkley stands on the red carpet at the Met Gala, a kid from Whitehall Pa who just wants to play football.

"I was nervous for the Met to be honest," Barkley said with a smile. "I took like four photos and sprinted upstairs."

So maybe everyone has a piece of Barkley now, and maybe they always will, but if 15 minutes on a sunny weekend in State College are any indication, the important parts haven't changed.

And hopefully they never do.



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