A Student of the Game

Penn State's 19-year-old tailback has learned from legends who played before he was born. He hopes those lessons help him nail down the starting job in 2011.

Penn State tailback Silas Redd was born in 1992, so one would expect his football role models to come from the more recent history of the sport. After all, he did not start playing until 1998.

Redd, however, is not your ordinary 19-year-old sophomore. The Norwalk, Conn., native, who is fighting to become PSU's starter this spring, has an appreciation for the game that stretches back before he was born.

“One of the greatest running backs ever, Gale Sayers, said, 'You can't teach vision,' ” Redd said Tuesday morning. “I think that's true.”

Great vision, you see, happens to be one of Redd's strengths. So too are speed, quickness and the ability to change direction in ways that seem to defy physics.

Redd knows the things he can do are not new to the gridiron -- not by a long shot.

“I don't think you can progress in this game unless you know about the past,” he said.

Along those lines, during his formative years, he would watch old NFL Films videos on game days. His favorite? “Pure Payton,” which highlighted the career of Chicago Bears' Hall of Famer Walter Payton. He also loved “NFL's Greatest Ever -- Running Backs.”

Even today, he rattles off the names of the backs on the tape, noting his favorites were, “Barry, Bo Jackson, Eric Dickerson.” And one can only wonder how many of today's athletes refer to Barry Sanders, the Hall of Famer who last played in 1998, by his first name only.

Yet it sounded natural coming from Redd, who is obviously dialed into the career of Sanders, a back to whom he is often compared.

Redd said he, “just tried to take a little something from each of those backs. I think that helped me through the years, because those are all excellent backs.”

As much as he has learned from the past, this spring Redd is focused on the here and now. Evan Royster, Penn State's all-time leading rusher, has wrapped up his career and Redd is in the mix of players trying to replace the three-year starter.

Though the youngest of a trio that also includes senior Stephfon Green and redshirt sophomore Brandon Beachum, Redd is coming off a true freshman season in which he finished second on the team in rushing (437 yards) and averaged a healthy 5.7 yards per carry.

Green, meanwhile, suffered through another injury-plagued season and only carried 48 times for 188 yards. Beachum took a redshirt while rehabbing from an ACL injury.

All three players have very strong personalities. All three view themselves as leaders. And yet Redd insists there has been no bad blood as they battle to gobble up the snaps available now that Royster is gone.

“There is never going to be any animosity between us,” Redd said. “We made that clear going into spring ball. First and foremost, we as teammates, we're going to be happy for whoever gets the starting spot. The roles will fill in from there.

“Maybe you'll be upset if you don't get the spot,” he added. “But at the end of the day, you're in it for the same goal, which is the national championship. We trust the coaches to put the right guys in the right spots.”

Besides, as Redd sees it, there may not be a clear-cut starter. It may make more sense for the Lions to go with a tailback-by-committee approach, given the different skill sets of the three players in question as well as burly redshirt sophomore Curtis Dukes.

“We have enough talent that any one of us can start,” Redd said. “I think that is actually a good way to run the ball, to divvy up the carries. We have myself and Stephfon, who are speed guys, and you have Beachum and Dukes, who are big power guys. There obviously are ways you can incorporate everyone into the offense.”

All of that said, Redd is still going after the starting job with vigor. “I obviously have high expectations for myself,” he said.

His primary areas of focus this spring have been ball protection and improving his blocking. He'd also like to become more involved in the pass game after catching only four balls last year. Finally, he's bulked up to more than 205 pounds after starting his rookie season at about 195.

“I feel I'm a sturdier back, which is good,” he said.

Even before he eclipsed the school's longstanding rushing record last season, Royster told reporters the new mark probably would not last long. He anticipated Redd breaking it. Redd said he was “shocked” and “flattered” when he heard Royster say that.

Whether Redd actually enjoys that level of success remains to be seen, of course. But as spring ball winds down and the kickoff of the 2011 campaign draws closer, Redd is now worried less about learning from the past and more about the chance to make a little history himself.

“I'm very excited for what possibly could be in store for me next season,” he said.


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