Saquon Barkley was ready to quit.
Even after dreaming of playing in the NFL from the age of 3, Barkley had become so frustrated about not playing as much as he wanted to with his youth football team that he told his father he’d had enough.
Saquon figured he’d become a boxer, just like his dad, Alibay, and his uncle, former world champion Iran Barkley.
“I was immature and things weren’t going my way,” Barkley told Newsday. “I was 13, 14 years old, wasn’t playing as much as I should have, and I started losing my love of the game. I was ready to just try to see if I could do something else.”
Alibay Barkley listened to his son talk about leaving football. It was as if he were listening to a younger version of himself when he quit the sport he loved.
“I got into a sparring match at the Larry Holmes gym [in Allentown, Pennsylvania] and a dude got the best of me,” Alibay Barkley said. “I can remember sitting in that locker room afterward, saying to myself, ‘I can’t do this no more.’ ”
Alibay couldn’t let his son do the same thing.
“I know I quit boxing when I shouldn’t have,” he said. “I hurt my shoulder when I was younger, and then I tried it again when I was 32. I gave up. It was hard for me to admit, but I know how it is to give up on something that you love. You have regrets. You give up, it’s going to be easy to give up on everything.”
So Alibay told his son not to make the same choice.
Saquon recited his father’s remarks on the Giants’ practice field after a recent workout.
“When you quit one thing in life, you’ll be a quitter the rest of your life,” he said. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
The words resonated, and Saquon decided to keep playing. Soon after the conversation, he enrolled in Whitehall (Pennsylvania) High School, became a star running back and went on to a spectacular career at Penn State. His dream of making it to the NFL came true when the Giants selected him with the second overall pick in this year’s draft.
“All of those things my father has told me over the years have helped me grow, not only as a football player but as a man,” Saquon said. “All the things he’s been through — his ups and downs, his trials and tribulations — I’ve been able to learn from him as a man and it’s definitely helped me. Hopefully, I can continue to do that for my daughter [who was born two days before the draft], from the good things to the mistakes I make. I will make mistakes. I’m human. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell her my mistakes, be honest about my mistakes.”
After his moment of doubt about whether he wanted to continue playing football, Saquon rededicated himself to the sport, grew stronger and faster, and quickly developed into one of the country’s best players. He’s now hoping to give the Giants’ offense something it hasn’t had in years — a multidimensional running back capable of taking over games.
He has impressed the Giants’ coaches not only with his grasp of the game but with his dedication on the practice field and in the weight room. He’s always the last one off the field, and his work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“This is something I’ve wanted all my life,” he said. “This is where I’ve wanted to be — where I am right now.”
He is grateful that his father was there when he needed him.
“My dad wasn’t going to let some small adversity stop me,” he said. “How you fight through it shapes how you grow as a person. Even if I didn’t get to the point where I am right now, I’d definitely be doing something special, something that I would have a chance to impact someone’s life. That’s from the lessons my father has taught me.”
He will take a moment on this Father’s Day — his first as a dad — to thank Alibay for all he has given him over the years.
“I don’t tell my father ‘thank you’ as much as I should,” Saquon said. “I’m truly blessed, not only with my father but the entire family that I have, my mother and brothers and sisters. I have a father in my life, and some people aren’t fortunate enough to have that circumstance. Just to have my father by my side, helping instill confidence in me, that means so much.”