There seems to be no end to the versatility of Evan Royster. The Penn State tailback can block for running plays and help in pass protection. He can catch passes out of the backfield or line up in the slot or split wide.
But where Royster excels is running the football. A combination of power and elusiveness, the 6-foot-1, 213-pound junior uses his uncanny vision and patience to wait and find the smallest hole or go a different way if a hole doesn't form and still pick up positive yardage.
Asked yesterday to describe his running style, Royster paused before replying, "I don't really know."
"What I really like to do is run between the tackles," he said. "I think I'm better at that than running outside. I'm a downhill runner. I lower my shoulder when I have to and try to make people miss."
Through six games for the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions, Royster trails his pace of last year, when he rushed for 1,236 yards. But he has come on the last two weeks, with 105 yards against Illinois and 94 yards (on just eight carries) against Eastern Illinois, boosting his season total to 504 rushing yards.
Not coincidentally, his numbers have increased with the improvement of the Lions' offensive line. The linemen appreciate Royster's ability to make something out of nothing.
"You don't really see it at the time," tackle Dennis Landolt said, "but when you look at the game on film and you see you didn't block a play really well, he's still able to find a hole or make a backside cut.
"It's definitely easier to block for somebody like him. As an offensive lineman, you know if you get on your man and hold your block for a second, he's going to make something happen. He makes your job easier."
Penn State coach Joe Paterno recruited Royster out of Westfield High School in Virginia, but the coach really was sold after learning of Royster's proficiency in lacrosse. Royster scored 33 goals as a senior.
Paterno said because of Royster's lacrosse background, "he's got a good feel for people moving around and taking advantage of cracks when he's running the football. There's a lot of little things he can exploit because he's smart, and he's just got that kind of awareness. He's a good football player."
"It's just the speed of the game," Royster said about how lacrosse helps. "Lacrosse is such a high-paced game where you work on your reflexes and stuff like that."
Although Paterno planned to use Royster more in the passing game this season - the player caught a 49-yard touchdown pass against Syracuse - those plans seem to have been shelved for the moment. Royster has just two catches in his last four games, six for the season.
"I guess it's in the game plan to get the other receivers more involved and keep the backs in more" to block, he said. "I'm sure it's something to build on later as we get into Big Ten play."
Royster is a popular player at Beaver Stadium, particularly the area that hangs a "Blue Royster Cult" banner over the student section railing every game. He's also a popular teammate. Quarterback Daryll Clark said he likes him because "he's cool."
"He's definitely been an important piece to this offense," Clark said. "He's a very patient runner, a very explosive runner. He can do everything - run, catch and block. He does a great job of making the defense miss. He's a quiet guy. He never complains about anything."
Because he's so quiet, Royster may be overlooked when the Big Ten's best running backs are listed, but he said attention doesn't matter.
"It's nice to be considered one of those guys in the league," he said, "but it doesn't mean much until you do something. We have a lot more games to go."
Nits on Philly.com
Read Joe Juliano's Penn State football blog at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-pennstate/
Check out Inquirer staff writer Keith Pompey's recruiting information - including Penn State's top football class - on his Matriculating blog at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-college-football/