In Tebow-style, Redskins' Helu expresses his faith
ASHBURN, Va. (AP)
And like Tebow, the Washington Redskins running back isn't shy about sharing his Christian faith, interspersing his answers to reporters' questions with phrases like: ''I've been praying to be a better steward and a better representation of Jesus on the field.''
Helu also realizes that some can be turned off by such talk, while others find it inspiring. Just as Tebow has become a polarizing figure during an amazing run with the Denver Broncos over the last few weeks, Helu is gaining more attention now that he's become the first Redskins rookie in franchise history to rush for 100 yards in three straight games.
That creates a challenge: how to sound genuine - and not sanctimonious.
''I'm being cautious of that,'' the fourth-round pick from Nebraska said. ''My prayer's actually been that just keeping in a close relationship with God through prayer ... and also that he's going to lead me, like in opportunities like this, to share - and that it won't come off as fake or anything but authentic.
''Once I became a Christian I just have this ambition to share, kind of like what you see with Tebow. But obviously he's on a great scale right now.''
As he gets more comfortable with the media in his first NFL season, Helu's answers are becoming more about football and less about faith. He said he was especially conscious about his choice of words after a victory over the Seattle Seahawks three weeks ago, lest anyone think he was being thankful to God just because the Redskins had won.
In just a few months, Helu has earned two spots in the team's record book. His 14 receptions against the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 6 bettered the single-game mark held by Art Monk and Kelvin Bryant, and his tallies of 108, 100 and 126 yards over the last three weeks are unique among Redskins players fresh out of college. The feat is even more remarkable given that the team has constantly had to shuffle the offensive line because of injuries and Trent Williams' suspension.
Just don't expect Helu to brag about either accomplishment. Asked if he feels he's ''arrived,'' he said: ''I don't like that word at all.''
''`Comfortable' or `arrived.' That's not my style,'' he said, ''because I don't feel that way at all. Complacency is one of my enemies, and those are kind of synonyms for that.''
Helu held out his hand. Before Sunday's game, when he ran for 126 yards against the New England Patriots, he wrote the word ''uncompromising'' in ink on his left arm. He said he did it to settle himself because ''there's so much stuff going on throughout the game.''
Helu said a turning point in his life came during his freshman year at Nebraska, when team chaplain Matt Penland helped him discover a new relationship with God. He feels the discipline required to practice his faith has helped him become a better football player. He's usually one of the last players to leave Redskins Park at the end of the day.
''Sometimes I just sit down in here and do nothing,'' he said. ''Sometimes I go and do cold tub and some type of stretch, extra film, but nothing too serious.''
From a football perspective, coach Mike Shanahan and teammates have nothing but praise. Helu is showing the ability to balance the patience he needs to wait for a block with the aggressiveness to hit the hole quickly. He has the strength to break tackles, and his ability to pick up the blitz - a weak link at the start of the season - has steadily improved.
''He's got the power and speed to make the big play, and he sees that as times goes on,'' Shanahan said. ''And I think a guy like him just is going to get stronger and better. He works at it.''
Even though he's only started four games, Helu has a decent shot at finishing the season as the NFL's top rookie running back. His 582 yards are second to the 897 posted by the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray before he went on injured reserve.
But when it comes to having a platform of success for talking about faith, Helu knows he's way behind Tebow.
''I think he's a very tough-minded individual,'' Helu said. ''I think God protects him from a lot of the really negative stuff.''
Notes: An Australian television crew was on hand Wednesday to do a story on punter Sav Rocca. When the reporter asked Shanahan about the Aussie punter, the coach responded with some 30 seconds of compliments - and then added: ''The bad thing is he's been probably been our best offensive weapon, and that's not good.'' ... T Jammal Brown (groin), S LaRon Landry (groin, Achilles), FB Mike Sellers (elbow) and WR Donte' Stallworth (illness, ankle) did not practice Wednesday.