Roy Helu Jr. concentrated on the television screen, intrigued by his father’s championship games as a member of the Tongan National Rugby team. Even as a child, he already had shown his father’s natural speed and athleticism, which was unmatched by his youth soccer and football competitors, but longed for his father’s direction on the field.
At 8, Helu studied film of his father and ran hills with him behind San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, Calif., where he would eventually graduate as a successful two-sport athlete.
“My father was the one who transformed me,” Helu Jr. said.
On the side, Helu played club rugby, where, like his father, he learned how to make defenders miss in the open field. His running techniques transferred to the high school football fields, where Helu combined for 2,611 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns during his final two seasons.
“What I really liked about [my father] was when he cut. It was a side step, so a lot of his stuff really helps in the secondary,” Helu said. “Just a little step and he would lower his hips. Those are the things I really enjoyed about him--his cutting ability and his vision and how physical he was when I was younger.”
Helu resumed his 1,000-yard rushing streak during his junior and senior seasons at Nebraska, becoming the first running back to rush for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons since Calvin Jones accomplished the feat in 1992 and 1993. Helu currently ranks fourth on the program’s all-time rushing list, with 3,404 yards.
The Redskins drafted the rookie running back 105th overall in the fourth round this year. Helu is competing for the starting job with running backs Ryan Torain, who is currently injured, and Tim Hightower, whom Washington acquired last week. All the while, Helu likely will spend this season watching film and learning to become more like his father, who preaches perfection.
“I have to improve every day. Every day I haven’t been where I wanted to be,” Helu said. “And that’s just me having to get down to it and get my assignments correct.”