Father and son: A tale of two Helus

November, 5, 2010
11/05/10
10:28
AM ET
It had been hours since Roy Helu Jr. shed his bright red No. 10 jersey, but the other Roy Helu had no plans to take his off any time soon.

The father and son pulled up outside the Lincoln dining staple, Lazlo's, and started making their way to the door.

"Dad, can you take off your jersey?" Junior asked.

It was the same one he wore every time he came to see his son play, and Helu Sr. served up that reminder to his son.

"Yeah, but not tonight," Junior begged.

[+] EnlargeRoy Helu Jr.
AP Photo/Dave WeaverWith his father in attendance, Roy Helu Jr. ran for a Nebraska record 307 yards in a 31-17 win over then No. 6 Missouri last Saturday.
Helu Sr. turned back toward the car and started to take it off. He stopped. He was too proud. Maybe one day he wouldn't wear it to a family postgame dinner, but the night his son became the first 300-yard rusher in the history of a program best known for running the ball wouldn't be it.

Helu Jr. sensed what might be coming, so he slid the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, hiding his signature long, black hair and made his way inside.

"Roy, don't try to hide, we know it's you!" Helu Sr. says a fan yelled across the restaurant. The patrons promised not to bug the pair, and the two Helus took a table, Junior digging into some baby back ribs. Senior, the prime rib.

Where credit and attention are, Helu Jr. is not. In 10 minutes in front of reporters after Saturday's 31-17 win over Missouri, Helu spent more time talking about the performance of his offensive line and his belief in Jesus Christ than he did about any of his 307 rushing yards.

He needed an assist from the stadium's public address announcer to learn of his freshly set record.

Whether it be from coaches, fans, media or his family, the praise is unnecessary.

"If he thinks he plays bad, he calls me right away," Helu Sr. said. "If he thinks he played all right, he’ll never call. I have to call him."

There are six Helu children, but until Roy Jr. became the fourth, Roy Sr. was a father to all girls. A rugby player himself, Helu Sr. took every opportunity to nurture the athletic talent obvious in his son.

Most babies are beginning to walk by their first birthday. Roy Jr. was running and dancing at his first birthday party. Don't worry, there's video of it somewhere. At eight, a Pop Warner coach told the Helus that Roy Jr.'s speed was an uncoachable gift.

Father and son would run the hills around the family's Bay Area home in hopes that he'd only get faster. Helu Sr. is no football coach, but he knows how to run with a ball in his hand.

"I help him with vision and cutting," he says.

The two are close.

"Really, really close," Helu Sr. says.

At those postgame dinners, football rarely comes up. After Helu suffered a painful shoulder injury in a win against Missouri last year, Helu Sr. stayed with his son for three weeks, helping him do what Helu Jr. couldn't, like drive. Junior stayed on the field, though.

Games don't get much bigger than Nebraska's contest against Texas in Helu Jr.'s senior year. Fourteen members of Helu's family made the trip to Lincoln for the game. Helu Sr. volunteered to stay behind in the Bay Area with the two youngest children, a freshman and sophomore in high school, along with Helu Jr.'s grandmother and let the rest of the family go. He'd have his turn in two weeks when Missouri came to town.

Helu Jr. only got 11 carries against the Longhorns. His longest went for 7 yards. Nebraska lost. Helu Sr. wasn't surprised when his phone rang so soon afterward.

The running back wanted his father's thoughts.

"There’s nothing you can do about it now," he said. "You dropped four balls, you know. That's just the way it went today."

He had more thoughts, but that didn't seem like the time to share them.

[+] EnlargeRoy Helu Jr.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikRoy Helu Jr. and his father are close. "If he thinks he plays bad, he calls me right away," Helu Sr. said. "If he thinks he played all right, he'll never call. I have to call him."
"He wasn’t patient, he didn’t catch, he tried to run outside," Helu Sr. said of his son's play against Texas and Oklahoma State. His wife, Kristi, said if she really wanted to tell his son how to improve, he should do it in person.

Once he got to Lincoln for the Missouri game, the two Helus drove to the football facilities for some last-minute film work. Some lessons from the rugby pitch don't get lost in translation.

"The easiest running path is when you see the hole, hit it and hit it hard," Helu Sr. told his son.

There wasn't any dancing on any of Helu's three touchdown runs of 53, 66 and 73 yards. He saw the hole. He hit the hole. He hit it hard. If Missouri had time to get a hand on him, they would have agreed.

After the game, Helu Jr. tried to reach his dad for a hug. His teammates dragged him into the locker room while his dad could only flash a wide smile from a distance and laugh. Later, Helu sent a team official to find his dad, who took an unassuming seat on a workout bench about a hundred feet away from where his son shyly answered questions about his record-breaking day, shrugging off questions about its significance and bragging on the five guys who created the huge holes he ran through.

This time, the postgame Helu family dinner featured two, not 15.

"He doesn’t want to talk about it a lot, he doesn’t want to brag about it, but what he’s done, I know deep in his heart, he feels good," Helu Sr. said. "Me too, but we hardly show emotion on stuff like that."

Family called throughout the night, happy for their favorite Husker and jealous they'd missed the game in person. Helu Sr. told them about the day, one he called "unbelievable," and one that left Big Red chanting his name as he left the field. Helu Jr. didn't hear it.

"How do you chant 'Roy'?” Helu asked a reporter after the game, in front of at least 20 reporters and almost as many cameras. "My name's like three letters."

"They didn't chant "Roy," Roy. They chanted "Helu," the reporter said.

"They said 'HAY-lew?'" Helu asked.

Despite their best intentions, the crowd had butchered his surname.

"My name's 'Hel-lou,'" Helu Jr. said. "I mean, you know, that's OK. You can call me HAY-lew."

He finished his uncomfortable exercise, conducted in a quiet tone with both hands behind his back for the entire ordeal, offering up an apology if he didn't feel he'd given a suitable answer to a question. His father waited nearby, seated at a workout station. Finally, they finished, and headed to Lazlo's.

After dinner, they headed back to the house Helu Jr. shares with a couple teammates, including Eric Hagg.

Father and son crashed on the couch and flipped on the TV for a well-earned rest.

"Man, I guess I did pretty good, huh?" Helu Jr. asked.

"Yeah," replied Helu Sr.

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