SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Nittany Lions returned to Happy Valley Sunday afternoon, and within hours, standout running back Saquon Barkley announced his plans to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft via an Instagram post .
Barkley, a projected top-10 pick, said Saturday night after Penn State's Fiesta Bowl victory his decision would be made public whenever it "smacked him over the head." Barkley's decision to turn pro is one that certainly doesn't come as a surprise. A player considered one of the best in Penn State history met with James Franklin prior to the season, and the head coach said he told the junior what he should do following the season, giving him an honest assessment the two kept between them.
As Barkley jogged off the field Saturday night, several teammates spoke about the standout player and person. Barkley helped the Lions secure back-to-back 11-win seasons, and in doing so stamped his spot in Penn State's record books, finishing his career second on Penn State’s career rushing yards list (3,843), just 89 yards shy of Evan Royster's record.
Barkley was also one of the top kick returners in the nation this season, returning two for touchdowns. He continued expanding a skill set that, at many points, looked as if it had no limits. He hurdled and burst his way into the end zone, scoring 53 career touchdowns.
“Saquon Barkley is a once-in-a-lifetime-type of player and it has been an honor to coach him and watch him grow into a fantastic young man,” Franklin said in a statement. “Saquon has left a legacy both on and off the field that will long be remembered by the Penn State community. Saquon knows he has some unfinished business in the classroom. Knowing how much it means to him, I have the utmost confidence that he will follow through on his promise and the plan that we have discussed to earn his Penn State degree. As good of a player as he is, he is an even better person and I look forward to watching him achieve his dream of playing in the NFL. We wish him nothing but the best on Sundays and we know that he will make us Penn State proud!”
[caption id="attachment_520871" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Scenes from Saquon Barkley's junior season. - WAISS ARAMESH / FOR DKPS[/caption]
Barkley sat at his locker following the Fiesta Bowl with his understudy, sophomore Miles Sanders, seated next to him. Sanders is expected to be the back to follow in Barkley's footsteps, though Franklin already mentioned potentially going to a running back-by-committee approach next season.
Barkley's void is as much about the on-field product as it is his leadership and personality, whichhelped the program return to national contention after the four-star Whitehall prospect -- once a Rutgers pledge -- opted to stay in-state and play for the Nittany Lions.