Saquon Barkley insists that he is not, and has not been the face of Penn State football.
But he may not have any choice in the matter.
So it's of no small significance that following his combine workout on Friday, one that turned the heads of even people who already knew his talent, that he took the time to credit James Franklin and his staff.
"It prepared me for this moment," Barkley said of his time at Penn State on the NFL Network. "You come to college and the way we work at Penn State, we do a lot of similar things that put you in position here at the combine. You grind, you grind. That's the mindset that had over there."
"Obviously we had a little struggle over there with the sanctions and the way we had to rebound was work and push each other. That's all I know, focus on my work ethic and at the end of the day nobody can take that from you. Coach Franklin, Coach Galt, Coach Huff, Coach Losey, so on and so on. There are so many people there from the coaching staff to the strength staff and academic staff, that have shaped me into the man I have become today and prepared me for this moment, not only on the field but in interviews also."
For anyone who has spent time around him, the praise Barkley dished out doesn't come as a surprise. He is magnanimous to begin with and crediting a coaching staff that helped turn him into the player he is today is only natural. You would expect it from most anyone.
But it isn't a guarantee, consider the last time Penn State held the eye of the NFL Combine world. It turned into a somewhat scathing between-the-lines tour by Christian Hackenberg that did little to elevate a coaching staff that struggled to utilize a talent once regarded to be as good as Barkley has become. It wasn't a huge surprise, but given the opportunity to just avoid subtle jabs here or there, Hackenberg generally didn't.
Perhaps most famously, Hackenberg's comment to Jon Gruden on national TV that he changed his footwork in the TaxSlayer Bowl, knowing that "nobody would notice." This on the heels of Hackenberg's impromptu announcement following the bowl that he would be declaring for the draft, and in turn a noticeably absent obligatory nod to his coaching staff, Franklin in particular.
Fair or not, it didn't look good for either party. In reality just about everyone in that Hackenberg/Franklin saga shoulders some of the blame, but in its most boiled down form, Penn State marching out its biggest headline making prospect to the NFL Draft circuit in ages and got little more than a few black eyes in return. Justified or not, it wasn't pretty.
Which makes Barkley's comments worth noting and in stark juxtaposition to the last time Penn State was in this position. It will almost certainly be a long time before the program sends the NFL another Top 5 pick at a flashy position, and Barkley's personality coupled with his skill will make him a commercial hit for as long as he plays, and maybe even longer. The likes of Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton will speak well of the program as well, but those words will never carry the same weight as generational talent.
In a way, Barkley has become the thing he has tried to avoid becoming labeled, the face of Penn State football. It might be awhile before that changes.
And as he heaped praise on his coaches for helping him get there, preparing him for that moment, James Franklin got something that has eluded him at the NFL level since taking the Penn State job.