Saquon Barkley said he plans to take a moment on Sunday to absorb the culmination of his lifelong dream. When he runs through the tunnel and onto the field with the Giants, he will allow himself to look around and remember the crowd at MetLife Stadium. During the national anthem, he said, he will stand on the sideline and reflect on all the work he put into getting to that point, about to take the field for his first NFL regular-season game.
“That’s a time when you think, ‘Wow, you’re finally here,’ ” he told Newsday.
The key, he continued, will be to not get hung up on any of that. It will be a very short soaking up of the atmosphere.
“That’s got to come and go real quick,” he said. “Because it’s go time.”
After months of waiting, yes, it will be.
Barkley has been waiting to play in this game for most of his life. The Giants and their fans have been waiting for it for just a little over four months. Ever since the team used the second overall selection in April’s draft to pick Barkley, it’s all been heading toward Sunday’s game and his NFL debut against the Jaguars.
Adding to the buildup has been a month of public inactivity because of a hamstring injury that kept him from playing in any preseason games since the Aug. 9 opener against the Browns.
On Monday, Barkley said he is ready. It is, as he said, “go time.” And few people go like Barkley.
“I definitely think I’m ready for a full load,” the running back said. “The way I’ve been preparing, the way I’ve been practicing . . . I’m excited to go against them and try my best and see what I’m able to do on Sundays.”
There have been glimpses of that. He started the preseason with a 39-yard run against the Browns. Then he made a dazzling catch in practice that led to his hamstring injury. He did not participate in practices for about two weeks but has been going full speed in the privacy of the team’s facility since Aug. 26.
“I wasn’t able to play in the preseason but I was able to show my team, my offensive teammates, what I was able to do in practice,” he said. “Obviously, situations are a little different, but catching the ball out of the backfield, running the ball, being able to showcase my talent, I think I’ve been doing that.”
On Sunday, the rest of the world will get to see it for the first time, through a full game, in a contest that counts.
There are some concerns that stem from not having played in a game situation in so long. One of those has to do with being in “football shape,” getting used to getting hit and brought to the ground, and the physical exertion that an every-down running back like Barkley needs to expend.
Even though he was able to run while rehabbing the hamstring, working on what he called his in-line “track speed,” Barkley conceded that returning to practice was an adjustment.
“The first day when I got back, I was a little winded,” he said, comparing it to a high school athlete going from football to basketball season. “It’s like two completely different conditionings.”
Now, after a full week of practices and with a week of them to go, Barkley said he’s confident his body is ready. “I feel I’m in really good physical football shape,” he said.
He also tries to remind himself that he wants to go through Sunday’s experience at least 15 more times this season. Hopefully more.
“I’ve got to still be aware that it’s a long season and you have to take it game-by-game and day-by-day,” he said.
As the anticipation for Barkley’s debut builds to a crescendo this week, he said he’ll be putting that out of his mind.
“I don’t have any motive to impress anybody, impress the fans or the media or anybody,” he said. “I’m just trying to get as ready as I can for this game, mentally and physically, and try the best that I can do, and try to do whatever I can do for my team to help them come out with a win.”
That, ultimately, is why he’s here.