STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall has had a good run coaching running backs in his decades-long career on the sideline.
One name especially sticks out on the resume — NFL Hall of Famer and career rushing leader Emmitt Smith, whom he coached at Florida and with the Dallas Cowboys. Now, Hall is poised to add another record-breaker to his list: the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions' Evan Royster is 481 yards shy of erasing the school career rushing mark of 3,398 yards held by Curt Warner since 1982.
Just don't ask Hall to draw comparisons between Royster and Smith.
"Evan's probably a little more of an outside runner than Emmitt was, goes around the corners more. Emmitt was more of an inside runner," said Hall, who has coached at the high school or pro level since 1964. "But again, to put Evan in that class, I'm not sure you can."
Royster's in select company already in the Penn State record books. Entering the 2010 season, he has 2,918 yards, good for eighth in career rushing.
That's more than Penn State's only Heisman winner, John Cappelletti, and standout Ki-Jana Carter, and behind notable names including Lydell Mitchell, Larry Johnson, Curtis Enis, Blair Thomas and Warner.
Royster's success is partly due to having played extensively since his redshirt freshman year in 2007, moving up the depth chart after Austin Scott — a one-time promising prospect — left the team following off-field issues. He backed up Rodney Kinlaw at the time.
Royster had been considering Nebraska and Oklahoma among his college options while being recruited out of high school in suburban Washington, D.C., where his family eventually moved. But Penn State was a place where he thought he could get some early playing time.
"I was blessed with a good situation. It was good because I wasn't on the scout team, but I was working in with the second-team offense, and I was still learning the offense," Royster said. "That's what really got me ready."
Royster assumed the featured back role in 2008, and he hasn't disappointed since then.
He ran for 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns his sophomore year, and followed with 1,169 yards and six touchdowns last season. Some of that slight decline in production was due to having an experienced quarterback in Daryll Clark and backups in Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum.
Royster has bulked up this season in anticipation of more carries. Clark is gone, and Penn State will be breaking in a sophomore — or possibly even a freshman — at quarterback.
"You don't want to bring in a new quarterback and be throwing the ball 40 times a game," Royster said. "I expect to take more of a bigger workload this year, take more carries, and the hits."
As if Royster doesn't already do enough.
Hall and head coach Joe Paterno have praised their star senior for his intelligence, and the balance and vision that he picked up from when he was a standout prep lacrosse player. Royster has improved with his pass blocking and become a bigger factor in the receiving game, split wide at times in Penn State's spread HD formations.
Hall said it fits in with Penn State's plan to go even more to their go-to player — though it's not because they're trying to pad his stats for a possible run at the Heisman Trophy.
Royster is a longshot candidate, though he could improve his stock with a good performance against in Week 2 at Alabama and the defending Heisman winner, tailback Mark Ingram.
"We're going to try to do what's best for Penn State, and Evan has very much bought into that," Hall said. "We won't pattern our attack" just to improve Royster's chances for awards.
Royster isn't flashy, and he doesn't have highlight-reel breakaway speed. Royster can break tackles, but he's not known for bruising collisions in the trenches.
"He's a very good all-around football player," Hall said. "Now when you start breaking it down, does he catch the ball better than so and so? Does he have vision better than so and so? Probably not. He's above the average player in probably every category."
Royster, a candidate for the Doak Walker Award for best college running back, thinks his Heisman chances are a long shot at best, though he wouldn't mind getting mentioned along with the other top tailbacks in the country.
On the other hand, he doesn't gravitate to the spotlight, either. He's more of a lead-by-example guy on a 2010 offense that, for now, is missing a charismatic leader.
"I like to keep a low profile. People starting getting opinions of people who are outspoken (or) sometimes too flashy," Royster said. "I like to keep myself more reserved."
Sounds a lot like Hall, the mild-mannered assistant who has been at Penn State since 2004.
Hall didn't even mention to Royster that he had coached his idol, Smith, until Royster's second year in Happy Valley.
"Once he said that, it didn't surprise me," Royster said, "but it was a whole new respect for him."