Thursday, December 7, 2017

Despite not being a Heisman Trophy finalist, Barkley's impact still felt across the country

Photo Credit: Craig Houtz
By: Jeff Hauser
Twitter: @radiohauser                                                         

A captivating season with 2,154 all-purpose yards along with 22 total touchdowns, and still Saquon Barkley didn’t get the credit he deserved by falling short of being named a Heisman finalist. The two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year has lived up to the hype coming out of Happy Valley, leading the nation in all-purpose yards averaging 146.6 per game. 

As Penn State’s versatile running back, Barkley’s presence on the football field provided ‘shock and awe’ at all times. He made outstanding plays seem effortless and changed the course of games in the matter of moments. “I think I bring value to the game in more than just my position,” Barkley said. “I affect the game in ways that a lot of others can’t. With or without the ball in my hand.”

In a lengthy season filled with tough losses, Barkley’s name slowly disappeared in the race among Heisman front-runners in the first week of November. Mainly due to playing the Big Ten every week-- a survival of the best teams with a make or break scenario that most teams in conferences to the south and west don’t face during the course of a season. “The conference that we play in does helps me out a lot,” Barkley noted. “We had a stretch where we played Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State all in back-to-back weeks. Not taking anything away from those guys, they play in great conferences, but especially in the Big Ten East, I think we’re the best division in the country.”

No player in college football meant more to his team this year than Barkley has to Penn State. And he feels the same way about his teammates. His view towards the Heisman Trophy and this season is proof of that. “A lot of people think of the Heisman, they think of an individual. That’s not the case— That’s a team award— You don’t win that without your team,” Barkley said.

For Barkley, he’s proof the love of family is the greatest blessing of all. He gives credit for his success to the love of his family and their unwavering support. “I’m going to continue to try and be a role model for my brothers and sisters and for my family,” Barkley acknowledged. “I wouldn’t be the person and the man I am today without them.”

A native of New York City, Barkley grew up in the Bronx before his parents made the transition to better surroundings in Bethlehem, PA when he was four years old. The story of a kid overcoming a difficult upbringing to find eventual success is one heard too often in sports. Barkley made the decision to divert from the fractured background that was proceeded him, but accepted that athleticism was part of his background. Barkley’s father, Alibay, was a boxer with an unruly set of hands, often used to defend against a rough life in the streets. The same case for his uncle, Iran Barkley, who was a three-time world champion appearing in the ring on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

The 5-foot-11 and 230-pound rusher owns Penn State's all-time rushing touchdown record along with being the career all-purpose yards leader with 5,279 yards. He’s one of two Nittany Lion players to reach the 5,000 all-purpose yard mark and the ninth player in school history to eclipse the 4,000 all-purpose yard mark. The total touchdowns Barkley scored this season was the most since Larry Johnson in 2002. His 18 rushing touchdowns tied Richie Anderson (1992) for fifth all-time among Penn State's single-season bests. Barkley’s drive towards a Heisman Trophy this season was highly anticipated going back to the end of last year. Penn State won last year’s Big Ten championship, but kept out of the College Football Playoff in favor of Ohio State. Barkley used that rejection as motivation in the Rose Bowl vs. USC with a total of 249 yards and three touchdowns. And it didn’t stop there.  

Barkley ended the season ranked second in the FBS among offensive players in scoring per game (8.2), tied for eighth nationally among active players in total rushing touchdowns (39), and tenth among active FBS players in all-purpose total plays (748). He’s the only non-senior in the country in the top ten for each category, respectfully. A huge reason why Barkley sets himself apart from other rushers was being a versatile offensive weapon.

Barkley deserves to be in New York this weekend. There's no doubt about that. For now, he’ll celebrate a solid year without a Heisman finish.