Royster's record career winds down at Penn State
Evan Royster is a reluctant front man for Penn State, a self-admitted lead-by-example tailback who would rather make his statements by piling up yardage.
That's what he's done during a four-year run in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions' career rushing leader gets to play one of his final games Saturday against Indiana at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., about 30 miles from his home in Fairfax, Va.
Royster could have already been playing on Sundays at the Washington Redskins' stadium, had he decided to keep his name in the NFL draft as a junior. Instead, he returned to Penn State for a senior season that hasn't quite lived up to expectations.
''I'm not saying I regret coming back,'' Royster said. ''Even though it's not an undefeated season, I still had a good time this year. ... I still consider it successful.''
There's no mistaking Royster's imprint on the record book.
Last month, he broke the school rushing record of 3,398 yards held for nearly three decades by Hall of Famer Curt Warner. Royster also is 217 short of becoming the first Penn State player with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons - another milestone he could reach Saturday against an Indiana defense that allowed 338 yards on the ground last week to Wisconsin.
''They have their all-time leading rusher, so you have to prepare for him,'' Indiana coach Bill Lynch said, ''and that's saying something at Penn State.''
Royster hasn't had much success against tough defenses, though. This year, for instance, he hasn't eclipsed 56 yards in each of Penn State's three road games at ranked foes Alabama, Iowa and Ohio State.
The offensive line had been a problem until rebounding during a recent three-game winning streak, including the 150-yard, two-touchdown performance against defensively challenged Michigan that got Royster the school rushing record.
But the run grounded to a halt again in the second half last week vs. Ohio State, when Penn State managed just 113 yards on 32 carries. Royster had 49 yards on 16 carries, and limped off with a sore left knee before returning late. He said this week he was fine and would wear a sleeve on the knee as a precaution in practice.
''I can't say we've taken a step back, but we didn't play like we could,'' Royster said. ''We're going to try to fix those things.''
Royster has played extensively since backing up Rodney Kinlaw in 2007 as a redshirt freshman. He took over as the feature back during Penn State's run to the Rose Bowl in 2008 - rushing for 1,200 yards on a team that featured strong leaders like wide receiver Derrick Williams and center A.Q. Shipley.
An 1,100-yard season followed last year, and Royster was able to toil in relative anonymity with charismatic quarterback Daryll Clark serving as captain.
Royster, with the school record in sight, came back in 2010 as Happy Valley's most notable player, though he wasn't named captain. He has remained even-keeled during this topsy-turvy 6-4 season marked by team-wide injuries and half-to-half mood swings.
Royster didn't break 100 yards until a 187-yard day against Temple, with the offensive line taking a big chunk of the blame for the early lack of production. Until then, fans wondered if Royster had landed in coach Joe Paterno's infamous doghouse after JoePa made a passing comment that he was worried about his tailback's weight.
Coaches had asked Royster to bulk up during the offseason to get ready for the increased pounding that comes with a heavier workload. The 6-foot-1 Royster said he got up to about 228 pounds before returning to his now-listed weight of 218.
Through it all, Royster has stayed subdued - though he did admit this week to being excited about playing one of his last games for Penn State in front of more family and friends.
''It going to be tough,'' Royster said about his college career winding down. ''I've loved my time here, and I think I'll be ready for what life throws at me.''