Saquon Barkley could be throwing a first pitch, running over a defender or hitting a golf ball. It doesn’t matter. Muscles seemingly protrude from his quads as if he’s the Incredible Hulk, no matter the task.
It’s the inevitable consequence of having tree trunks pose as limbs. There is a reason Barkley can squat 650 pounds, clean more than 400 pounds and holds just about every record for a running back in the Penn State weight room.
Barkley has 28-inch quads, according to Tom Marchitelli, the owner of Gentleman’s Playbook Custom Suits, who fitted Barkley for his draft day suit. Marchitelli said that is bigger than most of his clients who are linebackers.
Barkley’s new teammates with the New York Giants have noticed these gargantuan legs, perhaps because they seem more appropriate (based on sheer size) for a lineman but have the definition usually reserved for finely tuned skill-position players. They’ve seen up close and personal during workouts and practices the sheer size of these monsters. Star wide receiver Odell Beckham even minted the nickname “SaQuads” back in the spring, according to Barkley.
This is all new to Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. He’s been called SaySay or Say or Quon before. But never SaQuads, until now. It seems to have caught on.
Giants fan Joe Ruback, better known as License Plate Guy, even put the new nickname on the back of Barkley’s jersey at the Landon Collins Celebrity Softball game he organized last month. Barkley wore it with pride, even though the nickname isn’t exactly his favorite.
“It’s fun. It’s all fun,” Barkley said. “You know, SaQuads. I’m a rookie right now. They’re having a little fun with me. That’s cool. It’s cool. I think the fans are enjoying it. I’m going to stick with it a little bit.”
In the long run, Barkley is hoping that he will be better known for what he does on the field with the Giants than the size of his leg muscles. Maybe then SaQuads will fade.
In the meantime, after having made an appearance in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue and before he’s ever played a game (real or preseason) in the NFL, it’s his legs that are garnering plenty of attention.
Barkley has heard some of it before. While the nickname is unique, the talk about his legs isn’t. Highlight reels show Barkley using his turbocharged support sticks to leap over and race past defenders. In one clip, he leaps over one Iowa defender, absorbs a hit to the thighs by a second, barely budges, lands on his feet and keeps running. It’s pretty special.
Without these oversized legs, that kind of run -- and possibly Barkley’s brilliance overall -- likely wouldn’t be possible. Those quads, hamstrings and calves are part of what makes him special.
Barkley and Dwight Galt III, the director of performance enhancement at Penn State, credit genetics and hard work for those legs.
“He was pretty active in high school as a weight trainer, did a really nice job,” Galt said in a recent phone interview with ESPN. “His coaches in high school did a really good job with him. He had a really good foundation.”
At Penn State, Barkley went from a fine physical specimen to a somewhat mythical physique. He did it by dominating in the weight room.
"He's got the quads and calves of a 300-pound bodybuilder," said Brian Stamper, Barkley's pre-draft trainer at Tom Shaw Performance in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year.
Galt insists that if Barkley wanted, squatting 700 pounds would be attainable. Already, he’s third all-time at Penn State, having successfully squatted 650 pounds. Only an offensive lineman and a defensive tackle surpassed him.
Galt and the Penn State coaching staff had to walk the fine line between allowing the relentless Barkley to grow physically and putting his football future at risk. They were holding him back at practice to protect their most valuable asset and needed to do the same in the weight room, for the sake of the player and the team.
Barkley still begged and pleaded, and by the time he left Penn State after his junior season, had achieved his goal. Barkley wanted to be atop the school’s running back leaderboard in all eight (40-yard dash, NFL shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump, squat, bench, clean, strength index) categories.
It was hardly a surprise that Barkley was among the top performers at his position in every category at the NFL scouting combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, did 29 reps in the bench press at 225 pounds and posted a 41-inch vertical jump. All ranked either first or second among running backs at the combine.
It all begins with his base, specifically those legs.
“He was born like that. He’s got great genetics there,” Galt said. “They were nowhere near what they are now, but we knew from the get-go that leg-wise he was sound. His whole body. I mean, he benched 455. He’s third all-time in the entire history of our program in bench press. So … he’s something.”
Apparently, he’s more than just SaQuads. That’s a bit simplistic, even if it has a nice ring to it.
“What do I love about my body? I would say, probably, my legs,” Barkley said. “I get a lot of compliments about my legs. Definitely my legs. Going back to my sport, my position, being able to be strong and still be quick and fast. Being 230 pounds, a lot of people don’t think you can move the way I need to move, so that is just all the hard work I put into my legs and working on my speed and my legs. So definitely my legs and my calves.”