Behind the Mic: Saquon Barkley

October 17th was a rare Saturday for me.  Campus Insiders, an internet sports streaming group affiliated with the Patriot League, was granted the rights to the Lafayette-Harvard game.  There were slim pickings among the high school match-ups, so we all took the day off, a circumstance usually unheard of at this time of the year.  So what did I decide to do – WATCH football, of course. Specifically, I wanted to watch Penn State freshman “phenom”, Saquon Barkley of Whitehall High School, go up against the #1 team in the nation – Ohio State.  This, as many know, is the same Saquon Barkley who thrilled us on RCN-TV last year.  The 18-year-old is a true freshman and playing Big Ten football.  Watching him on Saturday night and putting it mildly, he did not disappoint.

Saquon had sat out the previous two games due to an ankle injury and his availability for Saturday’s game was not known prior to game time.  Trust me, he was available. Saquon rushed for 194 yards on 26 carries, an average of 7.5 yards per carry.  And he had a 44-yard touchdown run called back in the first quarter.  He did have a season-long 56-yard run in the fourth quarter.  He had four runs of over 14 yards.  He has now rushed for over 100 yards in three games and combined with the 195 yards rushing against Rutgers, he now ranks third and fourth in all-time rushing games at Penn State by a freshman.

His runs were dazzling and included another leap over a potential tackler, his second of the season.  He is spectacular at “putting his foot into the ground” and making cuts that leave defenders grasping at air or just watching him run by them.  To me, he has instincts that match some of the greatest to ever play the game.

Barkley is shredding college defenses much like he did at Whitehall.  In his senior year, he rushed for 1851 yards, 8.6 yards per carry and scored 24 rushing touchdowns.  He added another three receiving and a punt and kickoff return for touchdowns.  Take a look at his high school highlight tape:

When his Penn State highlight tape is put together at the end of the season, it should look almost as impressive.

Add to that, he is a great young man who distinguished himself both as a student and an athlete at Whitehall.  He played basketball, even though he was not a great basketball player and could have easily walked away from the team his senior year after acquiring the full scholarship at Penn State.  He played hard in every game and used all the basketball ability he had.  Then, he went on to be a track star and gave away one of his gold medals to a young lady whom he felt deserved one after a bad break cost her a victory.

For me, it is always special to follow the players who were part of the RCN broadcasts in high school.  I relish their success.  Liberty High School product and Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard comes to mind as he gets ready to launch an NBA career.  I want the same kind of success for Saquon.

Here’s hoping Saquon stays injury-free and continues to create exceptional highlight reels.  He has moved well beyond local television in the Lehigh Valley to national exposure on the major networks. For the next 3 ½ seasons, I will be yelling, like all the Nittany Lions fans,

“We are – Penn State!!”

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Cleveland QB Johnny Manziel got into trouble again this past week when he was stopped and questioned by police following an argument with his girlfriend. He was stopped in his car and admitted to drinking prior to the incident.  He was not arrested and did not play in the Cleveland-Denver game.
  2. In case you did not believe Yogi Berra when he said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, take a look at the Michigan State-Michigan game this past Saturday:

http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/10/michigan-state-stuns-michigan-by-returning-punters-fumble-for-td-on-final-play

  1. If you watched the Colts self-destruct against the Patriots on Sunday night, this might be what they really wanted to do:

http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/10/university-of-maine-ran-a-similar-play-to-colts-trick-play-but-it-actually-worked#cx_ab_test_id=17&cx_ab_test_variant=cx_blend&cx_art_pos=4&cx_navSource=arttop&cx_tag=trend&cx_ctrl_comp_grp=true&cxrecs_s

  1. If you are an Eagles’ fan, you must constantly be bewildered. How can they make so many mistakes on offense and still win?  If “defense wins championships”, the Eagles can still have a good season.
  2. The EPC South picture could become clearer on Friday night when Freedom (5-0; 7-0) visits Parkland (4-1; 6-1). You can watch the game LIVE on RCN-TV.  Saturday’s games are Lafayette at Holy Cross LIVE at 1:00 and Wilson at Pen Argyl at 7:00.

Gary's Picks

NFL PICKS LAST WEEK – 9-5; OVERALL 61-30 (67%)

NFL PICKS (WEEK SEVEN)
SEATTLE
BUFFALO
WASHINGTON
ATLANTA
INDIANAPOLIS
DETROIT
PITTSBURGH
BROWNS
HOUSTON
NEW ENGLAND
SAN DIEGO
GIANTS
CAROLINA
ARIZONA

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft Preview

The commencement of the NFL Draft 2014 is almost upon us.

Before you settle in for all the festivities and start price shopping for jerseys of your favorite team’s newest players, I want to provide you with the latest rumors, insights and possibilities on who’s going where, what team is doing what, and any surprises that might be lurking for this year’s three-day event.

First, here are insights from some of the NFL beat writers who joined us on our most recent “RCN SportsTalk” show, discussing the Eagles’ draft direction, DeSean Jackson’s departure and the top pick in the draft overall (the entire program is available to watch for free on RCN On-Demand).

Now, here are a few more bits of information from our sources on what to watch for in this year’s draft:

1) Don’t expect the Eagles to “stand pat.”
They’ve already made several incredibly risky moves—the biggest of these in releasing their most dynamic player, DeSean Jackson—so don’t be surprised if they make a move. The Eagles do have some depth on the line and rumors continue to swirl that Brandon Graham, who never quite fit in comfortably to the Birds’ new defense, might be one piece that gets swapped in order for the team to move up in the draft.

2) Expect to hear all-Manziel, all-the-time on Thursday.
Right or wrong, the NFL, ESPN and all the national media outlets love to overexpose someone at the NFL draft, and “Johnny Football” will be the guy this year. Rumored to be drafted anywhere from third to twenty-third, the former Aggies quarterback will be talked about early and often in Thursday’s “Day One” events, and probably even more so in the weeks and months to follow, regardless of whether he succeeds or not.

3) Look for the SEC to do some gloating.
While they will no doubt lose a ton of talent—again–due to this year’s draft, the SEC will be able to brag about having as many as nine players from their conference selected in the first round. I figure Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina and Auburn’s Greg Robinson go in the first five selections, and Manziel, along with fellow Texas A&M standouts Jake Matthews and Mike Evans, are next to go, with plenty more talent from this conference left for other teams to pick up before the draft’s second round gets underway.

Who do you think will be drafted #1 this year, and where do you think Manziel will end up? Post your opinions in our comments section or send an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com.

 

Behind the Mic: Zander Hollander

If you can imagine a time before ESPN, the NFL Network, the MLB Network, the NHL Network, CBS March Madness, etc, etc., then you might know the name Zander Hollander. Before college football and basketball came into your living room on pretty much a daily basis and before there were television channels singularly devoted to professional hockey, baseball, and soccer, there was Zander Hollander. Many of you probably do not know the name. He was called “the official king of sports paperbacks” by Sports Illustrated in the 1960’s. That was my era for childhood sports development. I knew Zander Hollander and I knew his work. He died on April 11 of Alzheimer’s disease.

Zander Hollander wrote approximately 274 books, many with “The Complete Handbook of …” as the beginning of the title and ending with a particular sport in a particular year. Amazon.com lists 23 pages of his book titles in a very large price range with some carrying a $1,000 price tag. Hollander would focus on a given sport in a given year, listing statistics, records, team rosters, and even making predictions for that year. He was extremely prolific, publishing a book almost every three months or so.

Even though he specialized in the “Big Four” of national interest sports, he also wrote or co-wrote The American Encyclopedia of Soccer, Bud Collins’ Tennis Encyclopedia, Lake Placid 1980: The Complete Handbook of the Olympic Winter Games, a tome on Madison Square Garden, and more and more.

I could ill-afford to buy the Hollander books, but luckily, our high school library did have many of them. I was introduced to them while teaching in high school and would use the information often when broadcasting a sport like soccer about which I knew very little. The books would offer up rules, how a game was played, the position responsibilities, stories and anecdotes. The Hollander books also allowed me to keep track of my favorite players and teams, and, more importantly, would settle plenty of arguments or, even better, create some.

I have such fond memories of the detail, the numbers, the tidbits and the trivia that was found in the writings of Zander Hollander. I also find it quite ironic and quite sad that the man who supplied so many memories for sports fans for decades was stricken by a disease that took those memories from him and hid them away somewhere in his brain. Although it strikes me that present-day technology has diminished the joy and the importance of the works of Zander Hollander. There is also something very ironic and very sad about that.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Actual baseball attendance seems to really be suffering early this season. Is it the weather, the price of tickets and concessions; is it the attention span of the youth of today; is it the competition of other sports; is it all of the above? Something to chew on, though, is that the Baseball Almanac says that baseball attendance is statistically up based on tickets sold, but down based on how many fans really come to the games. Why are there so many fans who can afford to NOT go to the games?

2. I watched the LPGA Lotte Championship late Saturday night (I know, get a life!) as much because of the beautiful Hawaiian scenery as my interest in seeing if Michelle Wie could win a championship. When she first came on the scene, she was supposed to be the female Tiger Woods. That certainly never materialized, but boy did she play well on Saturday, shooting five under par and winning by two strokes. It was only Wie’s third tournament win and her first on US soil. She is 24 and has plenty of time to still be a dominant force in women’s golf. If she plays like she did this past weekend, she will be.

3. The NFL Draft is on May 8. Quarterbacks Blake Bortles (Central Florida),Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) will all go early (top 5?). The Eagles will probably take a defensive secondary player (much needed).

4. Between the Easter dinner and the Easter dessert this past Sunday and, thanks to TiVo, my family watched the Flyers beat the Rangers in Game Two of the NHL playoffs. To me, hockey is a great television sport and NBC and NBCSN are starting to reap the rewards of higher television ratings. They really do hockey well and deserve the rising success.

5. For both your sake and mine, this blog will be manned by guest writers for the next three weeks. Randy Kane of Grandview fame will offer up his thoughts next week, followed by fitness guru Scott Barr, and then onto a very opinionated John Leone. Enjoy!