Thursday, Apr. 26, 2018 is the day Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (#26) had envisioned. The football standout was selected by the New York Giants as the second overall NFL Draft pick in the first round.
The six-foot, Bronx, N.Y-born junior that shattered records with his quick cuts, sprinter form and mile-high leaps netted 53 total career touchdowns and 5,538 all-purpose yards. Barkley became the only player in Penn State’s history to gain over 3,000 rushing yards and over 1,000 receiving yards his entire college career. He was the highest drafted running back since Reggie Bush going to the New Orleans Saints in 2006. Barkley’s teammate, wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., was so impressed by the Giants’ latest addition, he even sent praises to Barkley via Twitter.
The Burton Wire sat for a chat with the 21-year-old exceptional talent and father of a newborn daughter, Jada Clare Barkley, when he was visiting Atlanta. The soft-spoken, poised student-athlete shortlisted for the Heisman Trophy flashed a pearly white smile for the duration of the interview.. Modest yet focused, Barkley already had a plan B – a career in broadcast journalism – if advancing to the pros didn’t pan out. Little did Barkley know, the four-star recruit’s jersey would go on to sell the most units on draft night than any other first round picks.
Not once losing his radiant, boyish smile the entire chat, Barkley, wearing a white Penn State polo shirt, shared how he maintains work/life balance despite hectic practice and game schedules, his broadcast idols and how choosing to become a Nittany Lion on the gridiron has made him a better person.
TBW: So you’re a journalism major. Talk about your course load and what encouraged you to declare that major.
SB: So I started off wanting to be a business major. I was undecided. A business major is hard to get into at Penn State obviously, especially with the workload and football. My goal in life is to play in the NFL. I am aware that the NFL is not forever. There comes a point in time where you have to start off a career, and I would love to talk about football as long as I can. You’re able to do that, especially with broadcasting, being a commentator, being an analyst. You guys give me a lot of practice, so as I grow and feel more comfortable, I would love to take it to another level where I could be on ESPN, Monday Night Football or College GameDay to talk about the sport because I love football. I love sports. I may not be able to play it forever, but I can talk about it for awhile. That’s kinda why I went into that area.
As far as class, the point I’m at right now really doesn’t have anything to do with what I want to do. We have News Media & Ethics – what’s ethically right, what’s ethically wrong. Next semester, that’s when I get into technology and being on camera. I took a Studio Communication class in high school, so I was able to work behind the camera: not really a big fan of that. I’d much rather be on TV.
TBW: What journalists or commentators would you like to pattern yourself after? Who are you looking at as your muse to drive you towards your destiny?
SB: Someone that popped in my head is Michael Strahan because he’s not only doing sports. I forgot what that show is called…Good Morning America…he’s also on that. I see the Monday Night Football guys, the Dan Marinos and be on the sidelines like Matt Leinart with Fox Sports.
TBW: Between practice and making sure you’re performing well on the field, work/life balance can be a little difficult and stressful. How are you balancing your schoolwork and academics versus being on the field?
SB: Actually, it’s not as hard as people think, especially at Penn State. I know a lot of people can complain about that, but I do think Penn State does a great job of getting you adjusted to college as a freshman. So, when you come in as a freshman, you got 10 study hall hours mandatory throughout the week. That’s a lot, so you get to get adjusted to the college workload and playing sports. I was fortunate enough as a freshman to play and have some success. When you get to the next level your sophomore year, because of your GPA, you could go from 10 to 6. You could go from 10 to 0 or 10 to 3. It’s motivation because you don’t want to be in study hall that long.
We got the Morgan Academic Center; it’s beautiful, it’s new and they just built it. There are a lot of resources; you can go in there and write papers. You got tutors. You got it all. That’s another reason why I picked Penn State. I truly think it’s not as hard as you think. It’s hard, especially in the offseason, because you have morning workouts, and you’re tired. You have a lot of stuff that helps you balance it out. I forgot about the academic advisors, but they’re on you. They check your classes and check for grades. You’ve got to meet with them at least once or twice every week.
I don’t know how it is at every other school, but Penn State does a really good job of helping you adjust and balance your workload.
TBW: What’s your current GPA?
SB: That’s a good question; I don’t know what it’s going to be after this semester, but I think I’m at 2.9 or 2.8. I’m shooting for a 3.0; that’s the goal in our running back room. I’m not gonna sit here, lie to you and say I’m the smartest guy of all-time, but I’m a lot better than what I was in high school. I’ll keep pushing for that 3.0. Whatever happens, I’m going to make sure I get my degree.
TBW: What have you been able to improve on the most being at Penn State?
SB: It’s kinda off with school. What I think improved the most is speaking: not only in front of people but using better grammar and bigger words. You can fool someone just by making them think that you’re probably the smartest person in the world just by the way you talk. Another thing is talking to people and building relationships. I understand that relationships go a long way. The people that you meet, especially at Penn State, where the networking is so big along with their alumni association. It’s helping you to meet people that will help you set up better opportunities for the rest of your life.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also adjunct faculty in the Department of Mass Media Arts at Clark Atlanta University. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.