CHICAGO - Evan Royster isn't the fastest running back ever to play for the Penn State Nittany Lions. He isn't the most powerful, either, nor the most elusive in the open field. His "wow" factor on a scale of 1-to-10 probably is somewhere around 6, maybe a 7 on a good day.
But the durable, dependable 6-1, 224-pound senior from Fairfax, Va., is set to enter the 2010 season well within range of one of the school's longest-standing records - the 3,398 career rushing yards set by two-time All-America and 2009 College Football Hall of Fame inductee Curt Warner from 1979-82. With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (1,236 in 2008, 1,169 in '09), Royster has 2,918 career rushing yards, and needs just 481 more to erase Warner from the top spot on the Nits' all-time chart. Barring injury, he has a date with history, likely before midseason.
It came as a bit of a surprise, then, that at yesterday's meet-the-press session at the 39th annual Big Ten Conference Media Days, Royster sat at his designated table for a few minutes as ignored as a wallflower at a dance. Few players so accomplished on the field have drawn so little attention off it.
Asked what it would mean to him to claim a Penn State record that has stood for 28 years, and withstood challenges from such outstanding running backs as Ki-Jana Carter, Larry Johnson, Curtis Enis, Blair Thomas and Tony Hunt, Royster admitted that it is something he thinks about.
"If I do get it, it'll be something I'll cherish for the rest of my life, no matter how long I do or don't hold it," said Royster, who had considered making himself available for this year's NFL draft. "But honestly, I don't play for personal statistics. My main goals are team goals. If there is one thing I'd want for myself, it would be to contribute to our overall success more than I have in the past. If all goes well, maybe I can do that and get the record, too. We'll see how it goes."
Even under optimum circumstances, Royster might not log the career-high 205 carries he had last season. His primary backup, swift redshirt junior Stephfon Green, is healthy after missing two games and being limited in several others with an ankle sprain. Highly touted true freshman Silas Redd could also find his way into the backfield rotation.
But fewer carries doesn't necessarily mean fewer touches for Royster, an excellent receiver who caught 16 passes a year ago and again might occasionally line up as a wideout. However he is used, though, Royster figures to be a security blanket to whichever of the three untested quarterbacks starts in the Sept. 4 season opener against Youngstown State.
"With a new quarterback, there's going to be a period where he needs enough time to get comfortable," Royster said. "If I can help take some pressure off him until we're able to open up the offense a little bit more, so much the better."
Penn State coach Joe Paterno has been nominated for the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Republican Glenn Thompson, representing Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District, wrote a letter to President Obama endorsing JoePa for the award. The letter was signed by 17 other members of the House of Representatives.
Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State's preseason All-America guard, doesn't know which of the three young, unproven quarterbacks - sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, or true freshman Paul Jones - he will be blocking for this season.
"From a leadership standpoint, it does make things a little iffy," Wisniewski said. "I've never been a part of a quarterback controversy before, if it comes to that."
What about the 2008 preseason, when Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin dueled for the No. 1 spot eventually won by Clark?
"There was a little bit of [controversy], I suppose," Wisniewski said. "But I think Daryll was more of a clear favorite. Right now we probably don't have a front-runner." *