Green wowed coaches, teammates and reporters with his highlight-reel speed and shiftiness, breaking away for several long touchdown runs in practices and scrimmages. But when the season rolled around, Evan Royster took center stage for the Nittany Lions, while Green moved to the backdrop.
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMI
Stephfon Green racked up 120 yards rushing and a touchdown against Illinois.
Royster's emergence as one of the Big Ten's best running backs forced Green to wait his turn. The Bronx, N.Y., native, had to be patient on the sideline. Now with a greater opportunity to contribute, Green is more patient on the field, too.
Green turned in arguably his best career performance last Saturday at Illinois, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He put Penn State on the scoreboard with an electrifying 52-yard touchdown run, reminiscent of his spring-ball highlights in 2008, but he also picked up five valuable first downs on runs, including a 4-yard gain on third-and-1 from the Illinois 5-yard line that set up a Daryll Clark touchdown.
"It's just my patience," Green explained, "just getting two to three to four yards and then, hopefully, bam, a home-run play will come. I'm just focused on ball movement, time of possession and getting the key first downs. And if the hole opens up, then I can hit it and go."
Green had his moments in 2008 as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 578 yards and four touchdowns on 105 carries. He also caught 15 passes for 268 yards, highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown dash on a screen pass against Michigan. He led Penn State with 124 all-purpose yards against the Rose Bowl but suffered a dislocated right ankle in the fourth quarter that required surgery and kept him out for spring ball.
The ankle is no longer an issue for Green, but he played through bruised ribs for part of the Illinois game. Head coach Joe Paterno saw Green take a more patient and careful approach against the Illini, which paid off.
"It's taken a while for him to just settle down and take the crack inside and go from there," Paterno said. "He's doing a better job going up field and taking better advantage of the blocking, a little more patience. So I think he's one of these days going to be a really good back."
Green wants to become a "consistent, pick-up-your-yards type of back." It helps to have one sharing the carries load.
Royster's patience as a runner is considered his best attribute, and Green has taken notice. With Royster racking up 105 rush yards and a touchdown last week, he and Green became the first tandem of Penn State running backs to eclipse 100 rushing yards in the same game since Tony Hunt and Austin Scott in 2004.
"[Royster] told me about blocking schemes," Green said, "told me what cracks open up sometimes and which ones don't. He's been an excellent help to me becoming more patient and becoming more consistent."