Focusing on Football

Penn State redshirt freshman tailback Evan Royster downplays the impact playing lacrosse has had on his gridiron career.

People like to talk about Evan Royster's vision, about how he seems to know where the pursuit is coming from and how to avoid it. The prevailing theory appears to be that he sharpened his peripheral vision by playing lacrosse in high school in addition to football.

It's a convincing theory, a sensible theory. But Royster doesn't entirely buy it.

“I really don't think lacrosse vision is the same,” he said. “I think it's a whole different type of thing. You have a chance in lacrosse to get by one guy but there's another guy coming straight at you and you've got to dish the ball off or take a shot real quick. It's a lot different from football. Somebody is coming at you [in football], you have to get by him and then there are a bunch of other people coming at you. It's not just one other person. I think it's completely different.”

Royster has emerged this season as Penn State's tailback of the future. The redshirt freshman from Fairfax, Va., is second on the team with 435 yards, and his average of 6.2 yards per carry is best among the running backs. He will be first in line to take over the starting position after Rodney Kinlaw departs following the 2007 season.

Although Royster largely discounts the influence of lacrosse on his football career — he called it “more like a side thing for me” — his success in the sport did help convince Joe Paterno to recruit him. Throughout his career, Paterno has used sports other than football to gauge prospects' athletic potential. The coach believes that if a player is good at basketball or soccer, he's more likely to have the tools needed to excel as a football player.

Paterno was initially on the fence concerning Royster. But then he found out the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder had been named to the prestigious North-South All-American Lacrosse game. “We were debating how hard we wanted to recruit him as a running back,” Paterno said. “When [the coaches] told me he was voted outstanding lacrosse player in Virginia, I said to Larry Johnson, 'Let's see if we can get him.' ”

Royster started playing lacrosse and football at the same time when he was a kid. He could have played college lacrosse had he wanted. He was recruited by some of the best lacrosse programs in the country including Johns Hopkins and Virginia. But he decided to play football instead because, as he said, “every little kid's dream is to go on and play in the NFL if football is your sport.”

Royster said he has friends on the Penn State lacrosse team who have tried to convince him to join up. It's tempting, he said, because he does still enjoy the sport. But he feels as though he needs to focus all his energy on his football career. Said Royster, “You have to make sacrifices if you want to do the best you can at a certain thing.”

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