Saquon Barkley felt strangely different in the minutes leading up to his first NFL preseason game. He figured he’d be nervous, maybe even overcome with emotion as he prepared to live out the dream he’d harbored as a kid growing up in the Bronx.
Instead, there was an unusual calm.
“It was kind of weird. For some reason, I didn’t get nervous,” Barkley said. “I didn’t really get anxious. They said it would probably hit me when the national anthem goes off.”
Even then, there were no jitters, no palpitations, no knot in his stomach.
“I expect to be nervous,” he said. “I was nervous in high school. I was nervous — not nervous — anxious is the word. Nervous is kind of like you’re scared.”
And then it happened.
On his very first play in live NFL action — albeit in an exhibition game against the Browns that didn’t count in the standings — Barkley took a handoff from Eli Manning, took a step to his right and saw a hole open behind tight end Evan Engram. He burst through and dashed 39 yards.
What a way to start.
“I think it was more satisfying to me because of the scenario,” said Barkley, the No. 2 overall draft pick out of Penn State. “We were on the [13-yard line], and to break out with a [39-yard] run really helps the offense out. It was more exciting for that, that I was helping the team out getting a drive started than making a first impression.”
Barkley ran four more times for just four yards, but his statement had already been made. His primary goal was to “go back to being me. I got so many people outside my family saying I gotta do this, I gotta do that. My main focus was to put all that aside and focus and go out there and be a little kid again.”
But if Barkley needed any reminder that this was just a start — and only a start — Manning provided it a few minutes after the Giants’ 20-10 loss.
“Just a run, you know?” Manning said. “Let’s not go berserk yet, all right?”
“I think he’s exactly right,” the running back said. “It’s just one run.”
But it’s enough of a reminder of what the Giants are looking for in Barkley, the kind of home-run threat in the running game the team has rarely enjoyed in recent years. Even in their two Super Bowl seasons in 2007 and 2011, the Giants’ running game was the offense’s biggest weakness. Barkley will now be counted on to provide the team’s greatest strength.
The big run offered a glimpse of what can be.
“The patience I had on that play was definitely my favorite thing about it,” he said. “Everyone was talking about the speed being different in the NFL, and to see that you have that burst and can get through the line of scrimmage like that … you just have to find a way to gain even more yards on that play.”
There’s plenty of time to try, and Barkley understands his mission moving forward.
Oh, and that part about not being nervous before a game like he was in his preseason debut? That’s unlikely to continue.
“One of the coaches told me it’s going to get worse, don’t worry,” Barkley said.
No problem there, because Barkley is used to being nervous before games. In fact, he welcomes it, especially as he gets closer to the regular season.
“Definitely preparing for that,” he said. “Just excited to live my life and live out my dream of playing.”