You may know him as No. 26 — Saquon Barkley, the standout running back for Penn State’s Nittany Lions.
Here in the Whitehall-Coplay area, we know him simply as Sa-Sa, a Coplay resident and 2015 Whitehall High School graduate.
You might have seen him in the new Nike commercial, sporting the new Vapor Untouchable 3 football cleat.
You might have seen him in the Combine coverage on the NFL Network or videos on Twitter, running a 40-yard dash in just 4.41 seconds, putting up 29 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and logging a 41-inch vertical.
At Whitehall High School, the students see his smiling face every day in an art project that spans an entire hallway wall.
He is a role model for these kids — and countless others across the Lehigh Valley and beyond — for his work ethic, his humility and his continued connection to his hometown.
When Barkley played football as a Zephyr, he rushed for 3,646 yards and recorded 63 touchdowns, 31 in his senior year alone. He was named to the all-state first team by Pennsylvania Football News, crowned Mr. PA football in 2014 and rated as a four-star recruit before ultimately committing to continue his football career at Penn State.
Many locals, though, can recall when, as a child, he played the sport for Hokendauqua Park & Playground Association.
He was also a valuable member of the WHS basketball and track and field teams and, during his senior year, earned a gold medal in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference 100-meter race. That medal wasn’t his for very long, though.
In a style most would say is all Barkley, he gave it to someone he felt also deserved to have it.
Here’s why: During the 2015 EPC track and field competition, a timing malfunction forced a 100-meter hurdle race to be rerun. The girl who won the first attempt, representing Saucon Valley High School, did not win the second attempt — the one that counted.
Barkley came to know of this girl because she held the starting block for his 100-meter race, which he won. He, along with the other competitors and spectators there that day, saw the Saucon Valley hurdler win that first race and believed she should have a medal. So he gave her the medal he earned that day.
All forms of media exploded with coverage of the event. Zephyr faithful grew even more proud.
When Barkley committed to Penn State, it seems the entire Lehigh Valley became Nittany Lions fans, tuning in to watch him score touchdowns and hopefully hurdle a few opponents on his way to the end zone. What an incredible moment for all of us when Matt Millen, also a Whitehall High School alum and NFL football great and now a television commentator, spoke of Barkley, mentioning Coplay, Whitehall and the Zephyrs on national television.
In many ways, Barkley put us on the map.
At PSU, Barkley ran for 3,843 yards and scored 43 touchdowns, in three seasons. He has earned countless accolades, including the 2017 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Running Back of the Year and nominee for the prestigious Heisman Trophy.
At the conclusion of the 2017 season, Barkley announced his intention to enter the NFL draft. Cue more cheers and excitement from his fans!
Here in The Press office, a letter arrived suggesting a parade be held in Barkley’s honor. After it was printed, phone calls in support of such an event came in from readers.
And so, the planning began.
State Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-133rd, will officially proclaim March 14 as Saquon Barkley Day in the State of Pennsylvania.
Coplay Borough will hold a parade the following week honoring this young man, whom Councilman Stephen Burker calls its “hometown hero.”
Details of the March 24 parade and celebration are still being finalized, but here’s what we know:
Everyone is invited. Barkley and his family will be there.
The parade will begin noon at Ninth and Chestnut streets in Coplay. Hokendauqua Park & Playground Association football players, WHS Marching Zephyr Band and Chorale members will participate.
The parade will make a brief stop at the borough’s Community Plaza and then proceed to Saylor Park at Second and Keefer streets. Festivities at the park will begin with the singing of the national anthem by the chorale. Speakers — including Barkley — will take their turns at the mic, and then R&B band Funk and dance band A Few Good Men will entertain 3:15-6:15 p.m.
A limited number of Saquon Barkley Day T-shirts will be sold, as will food and beverages.
So sport your Zephyr or Penn State gear — or not. Just be a part of this awesome occasion, this great reason to celebrate the rewards of hard work and to wish him well on the next leg of his journey.