A small part of me was holding out hope. As certain as I was that Saquon Barkley would forgo his senior season at Penn State and pursue his dream to become a running back in the National Football League, I’d be lying if I said my fingers and toes weren’t crossed, hoping for some sort of surprise announcement.

Maybe he’d want one more chance to bring a national championship back to Happy Valley. Perhaps he’d choose to chase the Heisman Trophy for a final time with a chance to prove he’s the best player in college football. He, possibly, could’ve desired the chance to cement his legacy as the greatest running back in Nittany Lions history.

That was my thought process, not his. I tried to convince myself, numerous times, that one of the greatest college football players I’ve ever seen would stick around for one final ride, knowing full-well it wouldn’t be the smartest decision for his career.

Selfish, I know.

Barkley said from the beginning that his decision to stay or go wasn’t an easy one to make. Despite the constant pestering from television stations and newspaper and website reporters, he didn’t waver from that stance and never leaned too heavily to one side of his decision. Even after Penn State’s 35-28 win over Washington in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, Barkley kept the focus on his teammates and declined to answer the question he’s been asked a thousand times over the last month.

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Everyone knew the hand he was holding, but Barkley’s poker face was unreadable. Maybe, just maybe, crossing my fingers and toes for the past month actually willed my hope into fruition.

So yeah, it put a slight damper on my New Year’s Eve when Barkley officially declared for the NFL Draft, opting to forgo his senior season in State College. Yep, selfish again.

Barkley made the choice that was right for him and ultimately the best decision for his career. In today’s game, running backs in the NFL expire quicker than a cheap carton of milk. When you’re a guaranteed first-round pick and likely a top-five selection, passing up that opportunity seems incredibly unwise. Especially for the Penn State running back who had nothing left to prove.

Man, am I going to miss watching him, though.

Simply from a numbers standpoint, there’s a huge void that Penn State now has to fill with Barkley’s departure. In three seasons with the Nittany Lions, he racked up 3,843 rushing yards and added 1,195 receiving yards in his career. He accounted for 54 total touchdowns and became a threat as a kickoff returner in his junior season.

This fall, the superstar led the B1G with 2,329 all-purpose yards and 24 total touchdowns.

But those numbers don’t even begin to measure his impact. Oddly enough, neither do the thousands of incredible highlights he created over the last three years.

I could fill an entire column with the best plays of Barkley’s remarkable career, and I’d still leave out several videos. His game-winning touchdown run against Minnesota in 2015; a 79-yard touchdown run against USC in last season’s Rose Bowl, when he embarrassed an entire defense on one play; hurdling an Iowa defender earlier this year while taking a shot to the hip, only to land on his feet an pick up a few extra yards; outracing every Washington defender for a 92-yard touchdown on Saturday, a Fiesta Bowl record.

Those are just the plays I recall off the top of my head. The list goes on and on and on.

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Perhaps what I’ll miss more than anything, though, was the confident, yet humble, attitude with which Barkley approached the game. How, even after he was undoubtedly known to be the best running back in the sport, he aspired to be bigger, stronger and faster every year. He was as physically gifted and athletically talented as any player to ever step foot on a field, and he dreamed of being even better.

He pushed himself to be the best every week and it produced unbelievable results and unforgettable memories. But he didn’t do it for Saquon Barkley, he did it for Penn State.

As of New Year’s Eve, Barkley’s collegiate career is officially over and his NFL venture begins. There’s no question he’ll be successful at the next level and could even carve out a spot in the Hall of Fame someday. There’s no question that, for once, Barkley made the best decision for himself and for his football career.

But I can’t help but wish he would’ve chosen differently. I would’ve loved to marvel at his athleticism and gawk at his stat-line one final time. And I was anxious to see what he and Trace McSorley could do with one more year together. I wanted to see Barkley in the blue and white for one final run.

I don’t care how selfish it may sound.