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Royster aims to finish strong, boost stock

10/26/2010

It hasn't been the type of season Evan Royster envisioned, but like any good running back, his eyes remain on what's in front of him.

By now, Royster was supposed to be Penn State's all-time leading rusher. He was supposed to be midway through another All-Big Ten type season. He was supposed to take on a heavier carries load. He was supposed show all those pro scouts just how good he'd be at the next level.

Instead, Royster is still 31 rushing yards shy of Curt Warner's team record. He has just one 100-yard rushing performance through the seven games and, more shockingly, only one performance of more than 70 rush yards. The senior also has received more than 11 carries just once.

Asked Tuesday to discuss Royster's career and what he's meant to the program, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said, "I think he's done a good job."

That's it.

Despite the decline in production, Royster doesn't second-guess his decision to return to Happy Valley.

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

Royster has understandably grown tired of questions about the rushing record, saying Tuesday, "I'm sure I'll look back on it and be happy that it happened, but I'd rather win games."

Getting Penn State to a bowl is a priority for Royster. So is finishing off his college career on a good note.

Royster never has shied away from talking about the NFL. We discussed it way back in the spring of 2009, when he told me, "If I'm projected to go first or second round, there's definitely a possibility that I'd leave." Last winter, Royster sent his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board but never received an evaluation, despite several follow-up requests.

His draft stock likely has taken a hit this season, but he can help himself down the stretch.

"The end of this season could dictate the next five years of my life," Royster said. "It's motivating."

Royster still has games left with three of the Big Ten's weaker rush defenses -- Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern -- as well as showcase opportunities against two likely top 10 teams in Michigan State and Ohio State. Like many of Penn State's seniors, Royster has a strong sense of urgency for the final five contests.

"It kind of feels like our time is coming to an end," he said. "At the same time, we've got to forget about that for now and still go out and prepare to win games."