UNIVERSITY PARK - Stephfon Green got all the hype in the preseason as everyone fell in love with his ridiculous speed and big-play potential.
Evan Royster, meanwhile, went largely overlooked.
Well, no one's overlooking Royster anymore after he, not the more heralded Green, put together an impressive season with 1,202 yards rushing and 12 TDs.
Mirror photo by Teri Enciso Albarano
Evan Royster is third in the Big Ten in rushing with 1,202 yards and also scored 12 touchdowns.
Even Joe Paterno is surprised about Royster's success.
''If you had asked me last year if Royster would be this good, I would say he doesn't have quite the stuff,'' Paterno said in late October. ''But he's turned out to be a heck of a good tailback.''
I asked numerous Penn State players in the preseason which teammate they were most looking forward to watching. The majority said Green, the redshirt freshman who reportedly runs a 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds.
Royster even singled out Green, his primary competition for a starting job.
''I'm not going to lie,'' Royster said. ''It's Stephfon. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do.''
No one knew at the time just what Royster was capable of doing. He beat out Green for the starting job, ran behind an outstanding offensive line and finished third in the Big Ten in rushing - not too shabby considering the top two, Iowa's Shonn Greene and Michigan State's Javon Ringer, were both first-team All-Americans.
Royster's patient running style and terrific footwork make him both efficient and dangerous. The redshirt sophomore waits for things to develop in front of him instead of just bursting straight ahead into traffic, something Green is still learning.
''That's pretty much what we work on,'' Royster said. ''We work on our patience, we work on timing out the plays and hitting the hole hard and stuff like that. That's the type of runner I am. I'm just trying to do the basic things right and hopefully other things will come.''
Royster showed off his abilities as Rodney Kinlaw's backup last season, gaining 513 yards and averaging 6.3 yards per attempt in 10 games. He upped the average to 6.5 yards per carry this season and said he made big strides getting acclimated to the college environment.
''I don't get nervous anymore,'' he said. ''Last year, going into a game not really having a feel for the game, it was kind of tough for me. But after being able to be the starter for a couple games this year, it just really helped out and I go out there with a little more swagger to myself. I'm a lot more calm.''
Green, while never the featured back, had a productive season himself with 521 yards, four TDs and a 5.5-yard average. He admitted he is ''a little disappointed'' he didn't get more carries, but he also showed some maturity in admitting something about Royster.
''He's just a better player right now,'' Green said, ''and you've just got to work hard to be where he's at.''
The two backs are competing for playing time, but that doesn't make them enemies.
''There's really no animosity between us or nothing,'' Green said. ''We enjoy sharing time. ... It's just a good thing when you have two running backs like that on the team.''
Royster, arguably the most humble player on the squad, said Green ''played awesome'' when he got the chance.
''He's had some really electrifying plays, and he's doing a great job for us,'' Royster said.
The Royster-Green duo should give Penn State a good 1-2 punch out of the backfield for the next two years. Royster has two years of eligibility left and Green three, putting Green in a situation where he will have only one season as the starter.
Sound familiar? That's the same scenario backup quarterback Pat Devlin faced, leading him to transfer to a Division I-AA school so he can start for two years. It's a lot different for running backs, though, as the backup usually gets a lot of playing time.
Green emphatically denied he would follow Devlin's path and transfer.
''Look, me and Pat are two different people,'' Green said. ''Pat's decision, Pat made up his own decision. My name is Stephfon Green, his name is Pat Devlin. I wish the best for Pat and everywhere he goes.
''But me and Evan have talked about it. You know you can't have that type of attitude. Anything could happen. Anything could happen. So I'm just going to ride out my chances here. I like where I'm at. I made my choice. I made my decision. I'm going to stick it out.''
That's good news for Penn State's offense, which is set at tailback for three more years. Green also could find himself in a more prominent role at some point if Royster gets injured, which he did a few times last year before staying healthy most of this season.
The whole Royster-Green scenario is yet another in a long, long line of situations where one guy gets the hype while another gets the job done. It was like that with Tony Hunt and Austin Scott, as well.
Green may turn out to be a star running back for the Nittany Lions, but Royster already is one and deserves credit for his actions on the field and the humble way he handled himself off it this season.
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.