Barkley Building on Work Ethic

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - To this day Saquon Barkley still watches the tape from the Rose Bowl game. Soon after returning home from Pasadena, California, the time he spent home with friends and family away from Happy Valley brought time for Barkley to reflect, to move past the sting of the heart wrenching loss, but never forget.

While the bitter end of the historic season is still imprinted into the minds of the Nittany Lions, its now taken on a new shape, working to fuel the motivation that's driving the future, evident right now in spring practice.

"The motivation that we have is in ourselves because of the standard that we have as a program, and the confidence that we have in each other," Barkley said. "We believe in what we can accomplish." 

For Barkley, part of the internal process to reaching the type of player you ultimately want to be, begins with watching some things you might not be good at. Pouring over clip after clip of the Rose Bowl game to go back and learn from mistakes is all part of the motivation.

"I just take that to my work," Barkley said. "Keeping that in the back of my head, like alright, third-and-1 you didn't get that, maybe this rep in the weight room is the reason why you can get that. You have to go hard on this rep or that set, push yourself a little bit in running, push yourself in practice. Whether you're taking 90 reps or one rep, try to be a leader, try to be focused and locked in so when situational football comes up that has happened in the past, you're preparing yourself for it."

It's a truly humble approach for someone who climbed through the Nittany Lion record books at a staggering pace last year, often painting headlines with eye-popping plays that left defenses dumbfounded, with even a hurdle or two mixed in.

Setting the sophomore single season record, he rushed for 1,496 yards, adding on another record-setting 402 receiving yards by a running back, also in just a single season.

The postseason awards piled up for Barkley, who earned both Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Running Back of the Year honors last year, as one of just 17 running backs to win Offensive Player of the Year honors in Big Ten history. 

When asked about his conference honors though, Barkley was quick to direct the credit to his offensive line, just another honest reflection of how he has managed success with poise and maturity, just two seasons into his career in the Blue and White.

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On the brink of his junior season, Barkley isn't finished with his pursuit, rather focused on embracing a mindset that he set back in his junior year of high school.

"I went through my high school record book and I saw all the records and I said, when I leave here, I want to leave my legacy," Barkley said. "Everywhere you go you want to leave your legacy, and here, I want to leave my legacy. I want to be known as one of the best players to ever play at Penn State."

It isn't all about the records for Barkley, who noted that leaving behind his legacy isn't going to happen just by having his impressive numbers printed in a record book.

"It's going to happen by my work ethic, by continuing to try to grow as a person, to be a better person every day," Barkley said. "Whether it's in football, whether it's someone outside asking for a picture, it's the little things. Being a great teammate, pushing my guys, being there and being supportive of them but also being critical of them."

There's an old saying that part of being great is making others around you better. For Barkley, part of making those immediately surrounding him in the running back room better, is showing up.

"I challenge the running backs by competing," Barkley said. "That's one of our core values and that's one of the things that I bring to this room and that we all bring to this room, that we compete against each other. By us competing, it brings out the best in us and we're really critical of each other."

Outside of the more physical aspects of competing, Barkley's role has shifted a bit in spring ball, now with added responsibility to guide others based on his own success and experiences.

Whether its extra work with younger guys or simply showing the ropes to a few new faces in the room, Barkley noted that in order to reach the highest level in 2017, its on the players to take on the leadership and cultural role to bring out the best in each other.

"I think I've grown in that role just talking to the guys and saying hey, you could try this or try this and see how it works out or this blitz helps give it away," Barkley said.

That type of leadership isn't just paying off for the rest of the guys lining up for each rep in spring practice though.

"Even though I'm not taking those physical reps, I'm taking mentally reps every single time," Barkley said. "Being locked in, I'm seeing stuff that I probably would not have seen and I'm growing, getting better as a player."

As spring ball steadily approaches an end, there's no doubt in Barkley's mind that the level of competition is unlike that of last year's.

Among the things that excite him the most though, his first is of course, the offensive line.

"Just when the play just works perfect," Barkley said. "JoeMo calls it right, the offensive line blocks it right, Trace [McSorley] makes the right read and the running back makes the right read, it makes me really excited."

Perhaps what's most exciting for Barkley as he looks toward what's in the future though, is truly the progress the team has made competing against each other, returners included.

"The way we are handling it right now, obviously anything can change, but nobody has a big head right now," Barkley said. "Nobody thinks they are above the team or above anyone. We all see each other as equal and we all compete and try to get each other better. We all have one goal in mind. That goal is to compete at the standard."

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

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