How Saquon Barkley stays humble despite ascension to stardom
NEW YORK -- It was a Tuesday afternoon in early October and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley was sitting in the back seat of an old-school yellow taxicab stamped with logos for Campbell’s Chunky Soup and the NFL’s Play Football initiative. This was supposed to be his off day, a respite from the craziness of a promising -- but often frustrating -- rookie season filled with losses.
Barkley was filming a commercial, and he was set to pop out of the cab to surprise the Cardinal Hayes High School football team in the Bronx.
As the young Giants star waited, he admitted to nerves. Barkley had been in the NFL for only a short time. Maybe the rookie would be an unfamiliar face.
“You never know. That’s embarrassing if nobody notices and is like, ‘Who is this cat?'” Barkley said.
It didn't go that way. He was met with a reaction befitting a rising star.
Saquon Barkley's infectious smile and humble demeanor combined with his amazing skills make him an attractive choice for advertisers. Rob Kim/Getty Images
It’s this vulnerability -- and more -- that makes Barkley such a likable and impressive addition to the Giants. At 21, he’s as self-effacing as he is talented, with the world seemingly at his disposal.
As an example, Barkley works with the Covenant House of Newark, New Jersey, to get tickets for every Giants home game for three homeless children. Then he goes out of his way -- win or lose -- to spend 15 minutes or so with them after the games.
All that attention he's receiving from being the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and having early success hasn’t blurred his focus.
“So far, what I’ve seen is he has handled it like a real pro,” Giants running backs coach Craig Johnson said recently.
Barkley entered Week 7 leading all NFL running backs with seven runs of 20-plus yards. He was tied for the league lead with three rushes of 40-plus yards.
To Barkley, those are just numbers. After rushing for 130 yards and adding another 99 yards receiving last Thursday night, he was hardly content. In his estimation, it meant nothing because the Giants had lost 34-13 to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The jump cuts that made defenders look silly and the 50-yard touchdown weren’t any sort of consolation prize. Not for this rookie running back, who became just the second player in NFL history to top 100 total yards in each of his first six career games.
Barkley will have a chance to tie Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt’s record on Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) against the Atlanta Falcons. He has already proved capable of doing things on the football field through his first six games that leave everyone, including the opposition, in awe.
“Saquon is a beast," Eagles running back Corey Clement said. "It’s hard not to say it. If I was saying anything otherwise, I’d be a hater."
That’s what makes the situation in the Bronx all the more extraordinary. Barkley seems to be keeping it together despite all that has come at him over the past year -- praise, fame, money, on-field success and a newborn daughter. His trademark smile, flashed for the teenagers during the commercial shoot when they trailed him with their phones, seemed sincere.
“That’s what it’s about,” Barkley said. “I was able to have genuine conversations with some kids, give them stories about how I got here, what drives me, what motivates me. That is something I want to continue to do.”
He took as much away from that moment as the young men he was there to advise.