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Area happy to have Saquon Barkley return

Whitehall head boys’ basketball coach Jeff Jones had some vivid memories about former Zephyr standout Saquon Barkley during his basketball playing days at Whitehall.

“He was a 5-11 power forward for our team,” recalled Jones about Barkley who graduated in 2015. “He didn’t have a lot of offensive skills, but he was a great defensive player. He was a smart player who could rebound.

“Saquon had great leadership qualities. He was on the last state playoff team in 2015 before this year, and we lost to Parkland. He was the type of player you wanted on your team. I’m a Rams fan, but this is a win-win situation for the Eagles and the area. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of number 26 green jerseys around.”

Barkley signed a three-year, 37.75 million free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He spent the previous six seasons with the New York Giants and rushed for more than 5,200 yards and had more than 2,100 receiving yards with a total of 47 touchdowns.

At Penn State, Barkley rushed for 3,783 yards and scored 51 touchdowns. During his Whitehall days, Barkley ran for 3,643 yards and scored 63 touchdowns.

Whitehall head softball coach Jeff Vivian was glad to see Barkley come home.

“As an Eagles fan, it’s nice to see him in Eagles green,” said Vivian. “For everything he has done for the Whitehall community, it will be nice to see him to do well, but not good enough for the Eagles to lose.”

Whitehall head baseball coach Eric Schmitt expected the kind of reaction his team and the Lehigh Valley would have with Barkley’s signing.

“When our guys heard the news, our locker room erupted,” boasted Schmitt. “Within the hour, I bet there were a lot of number 26 jerseys sold.

“I’m happy for some of the older guys at Whitehall who probably had him in class. It is great for the community because we can celebrate him, and he’ll be back in the community doing what he can to help.”

Former longtime cross country head coach Mike Lelko had s special memory of him that will last a lifetime. It was at the 2015 East Penn League track and field championship. Barkley also was a track standout.

“Saquon gave Saucon Valley hurdler Rachel Panek his 100-meter gold medal after she had to rerun her 100-meter hurdle race and finished last,” recounted Lelko. “I was standing next to track coach Jim Sebesta on the infield turf when Saquon cam over and asked him if it would be all right to give Rachel his gold medal.

“I immediately thought who would think of that and what a class act he is. At leagues the next year, Saquon came back from Penn State and put the gold medal around Rachel’s neck on the award stand.

“Those were two special and unforgettable moments.”