Royster’s other talents could have led to 2-sport college career

Evan Royster was always considered a physical lacrosse player.

He would duck and dive as he used his agility to get buy defenders, sometimes taking a big hit or two.

“I was a guy that just kind of took it to the cage,” he said. “I was a football player playing lacrosse, which is ideal. I would make one guy miss, then lower my shoulder and get to the cage.”

That’s right, in high school, current Penn State running back Evan Royster was one of the top lacrosse players in the country.

The Fairfax, Va., native was recruited to powerhouses like Virginia and Johns Hopkins to play lacrosse but couldn’t give up the sport he loved most.

“I was close to playing (lacrosse), but I wasn’t close to picking lacrosse over football,” Royster said. “If I would have done anything, I would have done both.”

Last spring, he had a chance to play both.

Shooting around with some of his friends on the Penn State lacrosse team, Royster caught the eye of then-coach Glenn Thiel, who approached Royster with a proposition.

“You can come out and play in the very last game of our season if you want to,” Royster remembered Thiel saying. “I seriously sat in my room and considered that … I seriously was thinking, I wonder if my mom has my equipment back home or if I need to go talk to this coach to get new stuff.”

But as one of the top-projected running backs in the 2010 NFL Draft, he decided it was too much of a risk to play another varsity sport, so he decided to hang up the stick, along with the idea he’d play lacrosse competitively ever again.

The decision as to whether he played lacrosse, though, almost never happened.

The day after Penn State’s 19-17 Capitol One Bowl victory over LSU, he sat in his hotel room and wondered if he should leave school early to turn pro.

“To tell you the truth, I kind of just went on gut instinct when it came down to it,” he said. “I was very close to leaving. There was so much I could gain from coming back, that it was just a no-brainer.”

The Illini will be the ones to suffer the consequences of Royster’s decision this weekend.

“No question he’s the best running back we’ve seen up to this point,” Illinois head coach Zook said. “But they’ve also got a stable full of them. Even though he’s the best running back and you better know when he’s in there, they play a lot of running backs as well.”

It’s that depth that has kept Royster to a modest 353 rushing yards this season, which will be his last of any college sport, as this spring he’ll be busy preparing for the draft, dispelling any notion he’ll play lacrosse.

Still, it’s interesting for him to think what could have been if he had stepped out onto that field last time.

Those dreams are tempered, though, by the fact that he doubted head coach Joe Paterno would allow him to cross over.

But Paterno was short when asked if he would have let Royster play lacrosse.

“Oh yeah. Sure,” Paterno said. “He was the best high school lacrosse player in the state of Virginia.”