• Showcasing the top athletes in college football, the players whose physical abilities blow away even those accustomed to observing gifted players.
By Bruce Feldman
July 05, 2017

I’ve been compiling my annual Freaks list of college football’s top workout warriors in the sport for almost 15 years now. I set out to showcase the guys who create some of the biggest buzz inside their programs by displaying the rare physical abilities that wow folks who are typically used to observing gifted athletes. This list is compiled with the help of many coaches, players and sports information directors around the nation. One caveat: I try to avoid having multiple players from one program, but this year I had two instances where I felt I needed to bend that rule. This year we’re doing a top 40 countdown.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP

The former walk-on from Orange County, Calif., has been, pound-for-pound, the strongest player on the Broncos’ team the past two years. He’s only 5’7½” but is a rock-solid 195 pounds. Wolpin, who is battling for the starting running back job, benches 383 pounds, squats 555 and power cleans 361.

Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In high school in Houston, he was a track standout who played at a little over 200 pounds. Ejiofor has really developed since getting to Wake and had a huge 2016, notching 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. He now packs 266 pounds on his 6’4” frame and still has tremendous burst. He vertical jumped 33.5 inches this off-season to go with a 4.77 40 and lifts almost a combined 1400 pounds in the power clean, bench press and squat. Plus, his coaches told me they love how instinctive he is as a pass rusher.

Scott Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This guy is MACtion. A former high school QB who also averaged 45 yards per punt, Thompson, now 6’2”, 205, is coming off a huge 2016, when he caught 64 passes for a school-record 1,269 yards with 11 TDs. He bench presses 350 pounds and vertical jumps 37 inches. In addition, he has a 3.7 GPA.

Mike Comer/Getty Images

A Florida product, Holcomb had zero FBS scholarship offers out of high school and arrived in Chapel Hill at 185 pounds in 2014. Last year the now 6’1”, 215-pounder earned a scholarship prior to the season, started all 13 games at outside linebacker and led the team with 115 tackles. Holcomb power cleans 395, hang cleans 395 and squats 585. On a Tar Heels team that had 11 players drafted or signed by the NFL this past spring, Holcomb led UNC in “Pound for Pound Power Index” (Total Weight/Body Weight).

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

He began 2016 as a backup and emerged as the Sun Belt Player of the Year after rushing for 1,402 yards. The 5’11”, 207-pound junior squats 630, benches 385, has clocked a 4.48 40 and vertical jumps 35 inches. “We have never seen Jalin hit his ceiling,” says one App State staffer. "Everything we throw in front of him he’s destroyed. Not only is he strong, explosive and fast, his conditioning is through the roof. He runs conditioning times with our skill guys, and nine out of 10 times he's in the front of the whole group."

John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Perhaps the most unfathomable streak going in college football is this: The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive lineman selected in the NFL draft since 2008. That drought, though, figures to end next spring. Word is Williams, an honor student who earned All-America honors last season as a sophomore, is high on NFL scouts’ radar. "He's a better player than any of the offensive tackles in the 2017 draft class,” former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah wrote in a recent prospect breakdown. The 6’6”, 315-pounder has a lot of brute strength to go with that intelligence and an on-field nastiness. He bench pressed 420 pounds this spring and dead lifts 550.

John Minchillo/AP

Bearcat RB Mike Boone is pretty freaky in his own right, but I went with DE Lyndon Johnson—his given name is actually Lyndon Baines Johnson Jr. At 6’6”, 300 pounds, he only has 14% body fat. He bench presses 415 pounds (even more impressive when you consider that he has an 86-inch wingspan), vertical jumps 32 inches and has leg pressed 1000 pounds for 10 reps.

Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

A converted DE, the 6’5”, 308-pound Teller has started 30 games for the Hokies. In 2016, he was Virginia Tech’s starting left guard and won honorable mention All-ACC honors from the league’s coaches. This off-season he earned another prestigious distinction winning the Hokies’ “Hard Hat Champion,” awarded to the standout in the off-season conditioning program, after he power cleaned 400 pounds, squatted 600 and bench pressed 460.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

NFL star/Freak emeritus James Harrison went viral this spring when he posted a stunning video of himself performing hip thrusts with a 675-pound barbell across his lap. The 6’3”, 315-pound Lancaster had quite an answer to that, posting a video of himself doing 800 pounds in the same exercise.


A two-year starter, Lancaster is one of the strongest men in college football. He’s done 34 reps on the bench of 225; deadlifts 740 pounds and also has an impressive broad jump (9’4”) for a man his size to go with a 27-inch vertical.

George Bridges/AP

The Cougars had two very good options here: DT Ed Oliver and Adams, their 6’1”, 234-pound inside linebacker who led the team with 82 tackles last season. Adams benches 405 pounds, squats 605 and cleans 375. He also can vertical jump 36 inches. All that power lends itself to some pretty hefty collisions, including this one on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield last season in Houston’s win over the Sooners.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Hoosiers had a couple of other guys who I also considered, especially Alex Rodriguez, a 5’10”, 225-pound former walk-on running back who benches 425, squats 650 and verticals 42 1/2 inches. Instead, I went with Hoff, a 6’2”, 310-pound defensive tackle. Hoff led all Indiana D-linemen with 38 tackles last season to go with six tackles for loss. A former standout prep wrestler in Ohio, Hoff bench presses 500, hang cleans 395 and squats 700. He also moves surprisingly well for a guy his size clocking a 5.07 40 this spring.

Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pirates’ top tackler in 2016 (77) holds the ECU record for linebackers in the power clean at 374 pounds. He also squats 600 pounds and benches 385. Other impressive workout numbers of note: a 36.5” vertical jump, a 10’4” broad jump and a 4.56 40-time. Not bad for a guy who arrived in college as a walk-on.

Lance King/Getty Images

His track cred is spectacular, having won Georgia state prep titles in the 300 hurdles, the 110 hurdles, the triple jump and the 4x100 relay. At Duke, the 5’11”, 185-pound junior has starred in the ACC as both a 110-meter hurdler and a triple jumper. This spring he also was named the Blue Devils' co-most improved defensive player as he deftly made the shift from cornerback to safety. Some inside the program think he could become the team’s best defender this year.

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

This is the second consecutive season the Horned Frogs powerhouse has made our Freaks list. A first-team Academic All-Big 12 pick, Morris started 11 games last season (nine at left guard and two at center). He’s a 500-pound bencher, squats 720 and cleans 450. Those hefty numbers barely outshined teammates Darius Anderson, a running back who ran a 4.39 40 and squats 660, and linebacker Ty Summers, a former high school QB that now can squat 700 and clean 400 despite only weighing 235 pounds.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Buffaloes’ cornerback Isaiah Oliver is a pretty good candidate for this list too as he excels for the Colorado track team, but I’m going with their 6’2”, 220-pound inside linebacker. This spring Lewis broad jumped 10’10”, which is better than any linebacker did at this year’s NFL combine. He also power cleaned 345, second-most on the entire team, and squatted 435 for six reps. Lewis has quite the pedigree. His dad, Will, played CB in the NFL and CFL and is now the director of scouting for the Kansas City Chiefs. His uncle, Tim, was a standout DB at Pitt who was a first-round pick by the Green Bay Packers. Drew’s older brother Ryan is a cornerback at Pitt now. He also has three cousins who played football at Pitt, including former NFL DB-turned-front office man-turned-ESPN analyst Louis Riddick.

Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Commodores’ all-time leading rusher (3,342 yards) has a shot after this season to finish No. 2 all-time in the SEC behind the legendary Herschel Walker. The 5’9”, 200-pound Webb benches 435—he’s also does 27 reps at 225, squats 565, cleans 360 and vertical jumps 36.5 inches.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

It’s two years in a row on the Freaks list for Bryant. Last off-season, Mississippi State clocked him at a blazing 4.24 40. This year, it’s a bit slower, but 4.29 is still flying. Bryant’s other workout numbers are big-time as well. A 365-pound bench, a 35-inch vertical and 9’10” broad jump. Word is he’s primed for a strong season in large part thanks to the addition of Ron English as the Bulldogs’ new safeties coach.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Florida native has excellent size for a corner at 6’1”, 201, but it’s his hops that really stands out. This off-season Irvine vertical jumped 43 inches. He also broad jumped 10’7” and squatted 500 pounds—2.5 times his body weight.

Patrick S Blood/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Ohio State back spent three seasons in the Big Ten (behind Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott) before joining the Zips. This spring he was granted a sixth year of eligibility. Ball had started the first two games of the 2016 season and piled up 181 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries before getting injured in Week 2 against Wisconsin. The 6’3”, 230-pounder is quite the physical specimen. He vertical jumps 39 inches, broad jumps 10’8”, was clocked at 4.4 in the 40 and only has 3% body fat. It’ll be interesting to see what Ball can do if he can stay healthy this fall in the MAC.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

The Rebels have some gifted young receivers, and the 6’3”, 224-pound Metcalf is the most explosive of the bunch. The son of former Ole Miss and Chicago Bears offensive lineman Terrence Metcalf, the younger Metcalf was a standout hurdler and triple jumper in high school, broad jumps 11’1” and has vertical jumped 37.5 inches. He also power cleans 350, bench presses 330 and was timed at 4.46 in the 40 this off-season.

Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A Georgia native, the five-star wideout came west, bringing huge prep track credentials that included a 10.46 100-meter time, a 21.27 200-meter time and a 23’7” long jump. Robertson was as advertised on the field, catching 50 passes for 767 yards with seven TDs, breaking Cal records held by Keenan Allen and DeSean Jackson. The 6-foot, 175-pounder spends part of his off-season running track for the Bears on their 4x100 relay team and does the 100-meter dash. Robertson showed off some of that athleticism in March, doing a 64-inch box jump:

Coaches rave about his character as much as his speed. His former wide receivers coach at Cal, Jacob Peeler, told me Robertson is "the most humble kid I’ve ever coached. People joke about kids being the last off the field—no joke, he was the last off every single day. Media had to wait an hour after practice most days to interview him because he was always staying after to work on stuff."

LM Otero/AP

I wanted to include at least one guy from outside the FBS and thought Goedert was a worthy candidate. He came to the Jackrabbits as a walk-on from the smallest class of high school football in South Dakota (and a program which is now playing 9-man football). He also excelled as a soccer and basketball player. Since then, Goedert has blossomed into a legit NFL prospect. Last season he caught 92 passes for 1,293 yards and has displayed a knack for acrobatic one-handed catches.

Expect the 6’4”, 265-pounder to light up the NFL Combine next winter. These are his numbers from off-season conditioning: vertical jump-36 inches; broad-jump 9’9 ½”. His 40 is 4.65. He power cleans a school record 380 and benches 380.

Ron Jenkins/AP

No college player I saw on the field last season aced the eye-ball test as much as this huge AAC wideout did. This off-season the junior was measured at 6’4”, 215. He has 6.4% body fat. He broad jumped 10’3” and vertical jumped 33 ½ inches. Here’s a good example of some of that burst as he performs a 60-inch box jump: 

Sutton’s on-field numbers are even loftier: 76 receptions, 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns. SMU head coach Chad Morris says Sutton’s a pleasure to be around and has great work ethic. Morris saw more than his share of stud wideouts in his days as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. He says Sutton is very similar to former Tigers standout DeAndre Hopkins in regards to his great body control and ball skills, but adds that Sutton’s even bigger than the NFL star.

Lon Horwedel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buckeyes’ recent 40-yard dash board in the Woody Hayes Center lists six players clocking 4.36 or faster in the 40 led by JC transfer CB Kendall Sheffield. But I’m going with the seventh-fastest player. The 223-pound Baker was timed at 4.37, and he looks every bit that fast on film. In his debut season as a starter, Baker piled up 83 tackles to go with 9.5 tackles for loss and two INTs. Better still, Baker was at his best in big games: He delivered a pick-six at Oklahoma; notched 13 tackles at No. 8 Wisconsin and came up with 15 tackles and an interception against No. 3 Michigan.

"Baker has ridiculous measurables,” said Mickey Marotti, Ohio State’s assistant AD for football sports performance. “He’s tough and he's Ryan Shazier-like if not faster. He can fly. He was 200 [pounds when he arrived at Ohio State]. He's now 223. Darron Lee is longer and more of a strider. Jerome is made for the walk-out [linebacker position]."

Joshua Weisberg/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images

The five-star freshman arrived this winter and wasted little time wowing his teammates and coaches with his agility and flexibility, especially since he had measured in at almost 6’6”, 265 pounds. Phillips ran his 40 in 4.5 seconds this spring and bench pressed 405 pounds. Those are head-turning numbers, especially for a guy who was supposed to still be in high school. He also has no trouble doing backflips.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Last month, Brown's wheels were on display at the NCAA track and field championships, where he ran a sizzling 10.12 100-meter time. He didn’t make the finals, but that kind of speed especially for a guy moonlighting at track is special. Brown also was part of the Crimson Tide’s 4x100 relay team that finished 14th. The 6-foot, 198-pound Texan isn’t just a fast guy. He’s also really, really strong. He bench presses 400 pounds.

Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A huge back with sprinter speed, the 227-pound Ballage was at his best in his NCAA-record-tying eight-touchdown game against Texas Tech last year. On one of those scores, a 75-yard TD run, Ballage was clocked by Arizona State’s GPS tracking system at 21.6 MPH. This off-season he’s vertical jumped 37 inches and whipped through a 4.03 20-yard shuttle time, which is .15 seconds faster than any running back delivered at the 2017 NFL combine.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Nittany Lions have one of the most exciting offenses in the nation, and the 6’6”, 252-pound senior is a big reason why. A former high school basketball and volleyball star, Gesicki set Penn State records for a tight end in receptions (48) and receiving yards (679) in 2016. He is a match-up nightmare for defenses. He vertical jumps 37 ½ inches and has broad jumped 10’11”. He also power cleans 380 pounds, second most on the team, and bench presses 410.

Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 6’6”, 303-pound Kansan has started 27 consecutive games and made some All-America teams in 2016. Smith’s combination of strength and speed is startling. “I've never had one like him. He's a most deserved FREAK,” said Tigers O-line coach Herb Hand. Asked what’s the most impressive thing about Smith, Hand replied: "His approach to his craft. Very business like.  Really developing as a leader too. Holding the rest of the unit accountable to the standards he has set."

Smith benches 495, and strength coach Ryan Russell said Smith could eclipse the 500-pound mark if they let him. He also has been clocked at 4.95 in the 40, vertical jumped 33 inches and broad jumped 9’9 ½”. The latter would’ve been tops by any O-lineman at the NFL combine in the past four years. "The most impressive thing to me is his mobility in his ankle and his hips,” Russell says of Smith. "Normally a guy his size who is that strong and powerful will be stiff and has trouble moving efficiently. Braden’s movement efficiency is incredibly smooth and is something you don’t see too often with a guy that size."

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Heisman Trophy winner became the first player in FBS history with 3,300 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a season. He also set a single-season Cardinals record for rushing yards with 1,538. Scary thought is that the 6’3”, 205-pounder is now a year more seasoned in playing the position from his work with Bobby Petrino, and he’s also apparently faster this year than he was a year ago. Jackson dropped nearly a full tenth of a second off his 40 time going from 4.42 to 4.34.

Reed Saxon/AP

If this list was based on dedication to the weight room and building one’s body, Gustin probably would rank No. 1. Trojans strength coach Ivan Lewis, who worked at USC in the Pete Carroll glory days and has coached in the NFL, said he’s never been around anyone like Gustin. “He absolutely loves the weight room. It’s his sanctuary,” Lewis said.

Gustin wakes up every day at 3:30 a.m. just so he can guzzle down a protein shake before going back to sleep for a few more winks. Then, he gets up again at 4:30 a.m. to get his body right for dawn workouts. That dedication has certainly paid off. The 6’5” Gustin, who arrived at USC weighing around 235 pounds, is up to 260. He can bench press 475 pounds and squat 575. His vertical jump is 35 inches and Lewis told me the Utah native runs the 40 at about 4.6. He’s coming off a strong 2016 season when he led USC with 13 tackles for loss and ranked second on the team with 68 tackles. Lewis said the biggest area where Gustin has made gains this off-season is increasing his flexibility, which only figures to make the guy an even bigger force rushing the passer this season. Better still for the Trojans, Gustin’s zeal for the weight room and hanging around after his workout to do extra core work and flexibility has carried over to teammates, Lewis says.

Sean Meyers/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You won’t find a more gifted 1–2 punch anywhere in the country than Dexter Lawrence and Wilkins. As a sophomore in 2016, Wilkins received All-America honors with 56 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also made the All-ACC Academic Team and helped lead the Tigers to a national title. This off-season, Wilkins measured in at 6’2 1/5” and 310 pounds and clocked a 4.80 40. Even more impressively, his 10-yard split was 1.62 seconds. No one close to 300 pounds at this year’s NFL combine was close to that quick. Wilkins also bench pressed 375 and did 31 reps at 225. Oh, one other thing, the guy has ridiculous flexibility for someone this size, as you can see here.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Crimson Tide have some Freaky D-linemen. Jamar King is a 290-pounder who was clocked at a sub 4.8, according to AL.com earlier this spring. Towering Raekwon Davis, a 6’7”, 315-pounder, ran 5.1. Former No. 1 overall recruit Da’Shawn Hand is another guy who turns heads.

Payne, though, is their headliner this year. He helped anchor the nation’s top defense in 2016. He’s shed about 10 pounds this off-season and figures to be even more of a headache for rival offenses. At 310 pounds, he was timed at 5.03 after running a 4.93 40 last spring. He also benched pressed 545 pounds. 

Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A one-time 280-pound high school running back that saw himself as another Jerome Bettis, Vea is developing into a force on the D-line in the Pac-12. At 6’4”, 346 pounds, Vea has a 33-inch vertical and one staffer told me the big man has run the 40 in the 4.8s. “His top-end speed is incredible for a guy that size,” said Washington DT Greg Gaines, a powerhouse himself who cleans 415 pounds. "He’s incredibly fast. He’s just a beast. I’ve seen him chasing guys down who are like 150 pounds lighter. He does it all the time. I’ve seen him drive an offensive lineman 10 yards back.” Vea told me he credits Gaines and former teammate Elijah Qualls for pushing him in the weight room. “We push each other to get better,” he said. “You have to match their level of intensity. Keep up with them and staying consistent."

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There are bigger backs and faster backs, but no RB in the nation is more powerful pound for pound. The 5’11”, 212-pound Guice runs angry. Despite only starting six times last season (he shared time with the great Leonard Fournette), Guice still led the SEC in rushing yards with 1,387 and had 15 TDs on the ground while averaging a gaudy 7.6 yards per carry. He squatted 650 pounds a few weeks ago and power cleans 374. He was timed in the 40 this offseason at a 4.49. 

Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The Wolverines are listed by some preseason magazines as having only one returning starter on defense, but that’s misleading. They have a bunch of guys who, like Gary, played extensively last year. While playing on a loaded D-line, Gary had 27 tackles and five tackles for loss as a true freshman. Expectations are sky high for him to be one of the nation’s biggest breakout players in 2017. Jim Harbaugh certainly stokes those expectations when he tweeted out some off-season workout numbers that spotlighted Gary’s athleticism. On it, the 6’5”, 287-pounder was listed as timing a 4.57 in the 40, fastest among not only Michigan D-linemen, but also the linebackers (a 4.63 was the best among those). Gary also vertical jumped 31 inches and broad-jumped 9’6”. The other number that was truly stunning at his size was the 6.70 L-drill time. At the 2017 NFL combine, the fastest time for all D-linemen was a 6.85, and you have to go back six years to find a D-lineman that clocked a fastest time than Gary’s 6.70. Sam Acho ran a 6.69 and he did that weighing 25 pounds less. The fastest L-drill time among all Wolverine DBs was a 6.79 and among linebackers was a 6.89.

Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Noles were without James for almost the entire season due to a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee, and not so coincidentally they dropped from No. 10 in defense in 2015 to No. 37 in 2016. James is a play-making machine (91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2015) whom the Noles have deployed in just about every imaginable way on defense. I spoke to one coach last year who told me James is the closest thing he’s seen to Sean Taylor in years. Like the former Miami great, James has amazing range to go with linebacker size. The redshirt sophomore who was listed at 211 pounds last season, is up to 222 now and has freakish explosiveness with a 41-inch vertical. He also power cleans 360 and bench presses 450—a ridiculous amount for a DB.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Street is the Freakiest athlete on the ferocious Pack D-line, which is the best-kept secret in college football. "They’re the tone-setters for the team,” said strength coach Dantonio Burnette. “These guys are super competitive.” Bradley Chubb (22 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks) gets most of what attention that group gets, and he’s a freak in his own right, clocking a 4.74 40 at 275 pounds. But it’s time to get the word out about Street. The Georgia native arrived in Raleigh already quite the specimen, but he’s worked diligently over the past few years to fine-tune his body and his game (as you can seen from this photo sequence).

Last year, Street had nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as he started to emerge as a difference-maker with his refined technique catching up to his uncanny athleticism. This spring Street, at 6’2”, 283 pounds, was timed in the 40 at 4.58 and 4.62. And Burnette says those 40 times are electronic times—not hand-timed. Street vertical jumped 40 inches, broad jumped 9’11”, cleaned 400 and bench pressed 475 pounds. He is the most flexible guy in the NC State program, and despite his weight, he has the kind of agility where he could stand up and play outside linebacker, says Burnette, himself a former first-team All-ACC linebacker.

Burnette has worked with some all-world caliber D-line Freaks in his time from Mario Williams and Manny Lawson to his days at Pittsburgh with Aaron Donald, a guy who ran 4.68 in the 40 and verticaled 32 inches while weighing 285 pounds at the combine. Donald, an NFL star, plays with a mean streak. He thrives in the NFL because he has such great get-off and is excellent using his hands. As explosive as Donald is, Burnette says Street is even more explosive. “He made a huge jump last year. He started to translate the stuff he’s developed in the weight room over to the field, and I think he’s really gonna have a great year.” The coach describes a play from the Pack’s bowl game against Vanderbilt in which Street tossed a 6’6”, 315-pound starting offensive tackle in the air with one arm. That’s the kind of rare explosive power that’s been honed from all those heavy cleans in the weight room. 

“These guys [Street and his D-linemates] make strength coaches look good.”

Richard Shiro/AP

The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year as selected by both the league’s coaches and media was every bit as impressive as his recruiting hype made him out to be. Lawrence had 79 tackles and 23 QB pressures and broke the Clemson freshman record with seven sacks while also producing 9.5 tackles for loss. At the NFL combine a few months ago, one NFL coach told me: "Mark it down now: The No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 draft is gonna be Dexter Lawrence. There is nothing like him in this draft in terms of size and quickness. He's ridiculous.”

Since reporting to Clemson a year ago, the 6’4 ½” Lawrence has trimmed down a bit this off-season to 335 from 342. His bench press is 465, but the really scary aspect is how fast he can move, clocking a 4.90 40 and a 10-yard split at 1.70. For perspective, at the combine one year ago Joey Bosa’s was 1.68 while weighing 269 pounds. And don’t count on Lawrence being slowed down by any sense of entitlement or buying his own hype. A few days before Clemson’s national title game, I told him that one of the Alabama assistant coach’s predicted that he would be the No. 1 pick of the 2019 draft. The big man just smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter now. I’m just a freshman."

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

James Franklin has been around more than his share of Freaky athletes, but the only one he says has been closed to Barkley is his old Maryland tight end Vernon Davis, a guy who weighed in at 254 pounds and ran 4.38, vertical jumped 42 inches and broad jumped 10’8” at the NFL combine.

Everyone around the Nittany Lions program seems to have a unique story about the junior running back. Ask Franklin about his star running back and one of the first things he’ll tell you is about that time when Barkley was in high school and won the 100-meter race at a track meet. The girl who won her portion of the 100 was forced to run that race again because of a timer malfunction. She competed in other events and then didn’t win the 100. Barkley, who didn’t know the girl, opted to give her his gold medal. “When your best player is also one of your best character guys, your team has a chance to do special things."

Barkley arrived in State College as an already eye-popping talent. He told me he was clocked in the 40 at 4.48 in his freshman season. On the field, he also turned heads, gashing an Ohio State defense loaded with future first-rounders for 194 rushing yards en route to almost 1,100 for the season. However, Barkley was far from satisfied. 

"My freshman year I was explosive, but I didn’t have true speed,” Barkley told me this spring. "My 20- and 30-yard burst was really good, but when I got to go 60 or 100 I didn’t really have another gear. My being a freshman playing with seniors, I really wanted to increase my 40.”

Mission accomplished. Barkley, who has added 15 pounds (up to 228), has dropped his 40 time to 4.33. This summer, he’s also broken Anthony Zettel’s old school record in the power clean, going for 405, and he did five reps squatting 525 pounds.

"All credit to our strength coaches,” he says. "They’ve done a good job of challenging me.”

You May Like