Like a Broken Record

Veteran tailback Royster is anxious to become Penn State's all-time rushing leader just so he can stop discussing the matter.

Thirty yards away now. Evan Royster's plodding pursuit of Penn State's all-time rushing record, currently held by Curt Warner (3.398), figures to end at some point Saturday night in Beaver Stadium, against Michigan's leaky defense.

Given the way the season has unfolded, for him and the team, nobody seems all that excited about it. That includes Royster himself, by the way.

“Honestly, I don't really think about it, unless somebody else brings it up,” he said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning. “It's not that big of a thing for me -- at this point, at least. I'm sure I'll look back at it and be happy that it happened, but I'd rather win games.”

So he said he “most definitely” wants to get this record business over with.

He has rushed for 450 yards on 88 carries to this point in the season (5.1 a pop), and has hardly been the workhorse he might have been expected to be in his final year in the program. The only time he has carried the ball more than 11 times in a game was against Temple, when his 26 rushes netted 187 yards, his season high by 125. His next-best game was a 10-carry, 62-yard effort in last week's victory over Minnesota.

So now he stands at 3,368 yards for his career. Joe Paterno's reaction?

“I think he's done a good job,” Paterno said during his weekly news conference Tuesday.

And that was it.

The only other time Royster's name came up during Paterno's media session was when the coach was asked whether he planned to give Silas Redd, the talented freshman, more work at tailback. Paterno said he did not, that Royster was “obviously … our first stringer,” and that Stephfon Green and Redd would continue “sharing some opportunities.”

Paterno also said Royster has “played a lot of football, has had a lot of success, knows what's going on, is very dependable.”

Paterno had raised some questions earlier in the season about Royster's conditioning. Royster's weight was once as high as 226, and Paterno had said he wanted him at 218.

“And,” Royster said Tuesday, “I was down to like 216 or something before the first game. And I eventually got down to 212. He hasn't said anything else about it.”

There have also been questions about his leadership. As for his production, he is on pace for just 771 yards, which would be his fewest since his freshman year. Last year he ran for 1,169, the year before 1,236.

How much he can be blamed for this downturn is open to debate. The struggles of the offensive line are obviously related. So too is the fact that the Lions have been starting a freshman at quarterback in Robert Bolden. (And Paterno said Bolden is unlikely to play this week, after suffering a head injury against Minnesota, meaning that either Matt McGloin or Kevin Newsome -- each of whom is only slightly more experienced -- would start against the Wolverines.)

As for the guys in the trenches, Royster said, “This isn't the same line that we've had in other years. They all do their own things well, but this year I think I've stopped being as much of a picker and trying to find the open spot. This year I'm just trying to hit it a little bit more (quickly) and stop waiting for something to open up.”

He also said that while some opponents have stacked the box in an attempt to take away the run, most have stuck to their regular defense. And whatever PSU's foes have done, they seem to have done it well; the Lions are 10th in the Big Ten in rushing offense (128.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.3 points per game).

Michigan's defense is considerably more forgiving. The Wolverines are last in the conference in total defense, allowing 441 yards per game, ninth in rushing defense (144.7) and last in passing defense (296.3). Those numbers are 104th, 54th and 117th nationally, respectively.

So Royster should bypass Warner. And that will apparently lead to polite applause in the Beave, nothing more.

Despite that, and despite the way the season has played out, Royster said he does not second-guess himself for choosing to return to school this year, after putting out NFL feelers last spring.

“I wouldn't take it back,” he said. “I get another year to be here and be with my friends and my teammates. It's not a decision I regret at all. No matter how the season turns out, I'm still happy I came back.”

It is also a chance to improve his draft stock, he admitted.

“The end of the season can dictate the next five years of my life,” he said. “It's motivating, and I just want to go out there and play my hardest.

After all, he said, pro football has “been my dream since I can remember. If I didn't want to (play), I wouldn't be here.”

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