Evan Royster of Penn State Has Final Chance to Impress in East-West Shrine Game

Mike MuellerContributor IIJanuary 19, 2011

Penn State running back Evan Royster needs to have a strong performance in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game.
Penn State running back Evan Royster needs to have a strong performance in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Evan Royster skipped the 2010 NFL Draft and returned to Penn State for his senior season. It was a defining moment in his playing career and a decision that cost him millions.

Royster came into the 2011 campaign with a ton of hype. He was a third team preseason All-America selection by Phil Steele and a projected late first-round pick, but that stock drastically dropped with every carry on the football field.

Royster came into the year just 481 yards shy of Penn State’s career rushing record held by Curt Warner (3,398 yards). It was a mark that should have dropped within the Nittany Lions’ first four games, but it took an extra four to get the job done.

That’s why this weekend’s East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, Florida is so important for the tailback.

Royster is no longer considered a top draft pick but can possibly slide back up to the late middle rounds with a strong performance on Saturday. It’s a must for the once promising running back, who took a huge professional hit coming back for his senior season.

Royster should have seen the writing on the wall. He should have left Warner’s record alone as he cashed in his paychecks on Sundays.

Penn State returned just three starters on the offensive line and had virtually no experience at quarterback. Game plans were very simple against Penn State early on. Stop Royster and you stop the offense, especially with true freshman Rob Bolden under center.

That game plan worked to perfection, bottling up Royster for a majority of the season. He broke the century mark just three times during the year and was held to 70 yards or less in seven games.

Royster, who was praised in the offseason for returning, was now being heavily criticized by the Penn State fans, coaches and media.

How can you fault a kid for coming back to school? Royster had everything to lose and very little gain with his decision to return, but he did it anyway. I give him a lot of credit for laying his cards out on the table, regardless of if he flopped.

Royster leaves Penn State as the all-time career rushing leader with 3,932 yards. He’s the first tailback in school history to rush for three straight thousand-yard seasons, and he helped the Nits to a 2008 Big Ten championship.

His legacy has definitely left an imprint in the Penn State record books, but his future status in the NFL is now up in the air. It’s amazing how one decision can affect the rest of your life.

I just hope someone gives him a chance. One bad season, or decision, couldn’t be worth five rounds, could it?