After spending nearly a full season on the injured list, running back Roy Helu Jr. returned to action this season and has carved out a role for himself as the Washington Redskins’ change-of-pace back.
The Redskins take advantage of Helu’s speed when defenses have grown used to Alfred Morris’ pounding style of running, and the team also looks to capitalize on Helu’s pass-catching ability, sending him out on routes as a receiver out of the backfield.
Helu, a third-year pro, did his part in Week 4 to help the Redskins to their first victory of the season when he rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown and also recorded 43 receiving yards against Oakland. Then in Week 7, he played a large role in the team’s second victory of the year when he rushed for 41 yards and three touchdowns against Chicago.
In today’s Game Day Q&A, Helu talks about his return to action, his brief encounter with his father’s game of rugby, and touchdown dances.
MJ: What’s it like being back in the mix after being forced to watch for the bulk of last season?
RH: It’s awesome. I don’t know, it’s one of those things that you have to experience – being “out on the streets”– to just be so thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself, especially playing football, which is something I’m really passionate about. I think there’s always times, though, within a season, where you really have to check yourself and your motives at the same time. Like, when things become maybe a little mundane and you get so used to being a part of, say the Redskins organization that you forget to take advantage of everyone’s opportunity. I think that’s something that everyone, no matter what, experiences at one time or another.
MJ: What was the biggest mental challenge of not being able to play?
RH: When you’re out of something, competition is just like – I have to find avenues. Like, I joined a video game league, and my wife thought I was crazy. I was like, ‘I need to compete somewhere.’ So, now, I always say, when you come out here, just make sure you don’t go through the motions.
MJ: How long did you play in the video game league?
RH: I played in it for two months. It was NCAA Football with a group of guys back from Nebraska and it was at the end of the season last year. I ended up losing one game, and it was to my rival, who’s one of my best friends, and then the computer didn’t let me get to replay him because he went undefeated after he had lost one to me. We were supposed to be in the championship. So, then, my wife was coming back from Croatia and I was just like, “Forget video games.”
MJ: You retired?
RH: Yeah. I sold all my video games back and everything like that. I think it was just a season in life when it was enjoyable. And now, we just use it for Netflix.
MJ: But that was what kept you sane during last season?
RH: Yeah, it was a nice outlet. For sure.
MJ: Your dad grew up playing rugby in Tonga and also played for the U.S. national team rugby team. How’d you get into football?
RH: Because he raised us in the U.S. [in California]. He knew that America’s sport was football or baseball or basketball and that it wasn’t rugby. He placed me in all those sports when I was younger, and I excelled at American football, so he kept me in that. Because I did so well in it and because so many people praised me for it when I was younger, I stuck with it. I really enjoyed that attention.
MJ: Did you ever try rugby?
RH: Yeah, after I committed to Nebraska, for one reason or another, I asked my dad if I could play for a really good club rugby team that was near us, and my dad took the assistant job and brought me along with him and I played, and we did really well.
MJ: What’s the biggest difference between the two games’ running styles?
RH: The angles. Football is a game of angles. But in rugby, they’re different. It’s a little more open-field type of angles that you take rather than the angles of cornerbacks and safeties coming to get you. You don’t really face up and go through holes.
MJ: Which would be harder: for a rugby player to transition to football, or a football player to transition to rugby?
RH: Rugby player to football would be harder. There are a lot of guys in the U.S. that don’t end up playing football as a profession that go on to play rugby.
MJ: What’s the biggest challenge for a rugby player going to football?
RH: I don’t really want to speak for them, but – I don’t really know, because for me, going from American football to rugby was an easy transition. But then, I’m sure, it’s somewhat of a simple transition, but a little harder. I’d say the rules are way different. They’d have to adjust to American football rules in a way that would take a lot longer.
MJ: Tell me something not a lot of people don’t know about Roy Helu.
RH: We have one car, so my wife takes me to and from work and we go to appointments and almost everything together unless I’m at Redskins Park and she has to go somewhere.
MJ: Why just one car?
RH: Just no necessity for us to purchase another vehicle. Just like a house, I think we’ll have peace about getting another car at the appointed time, when we extend our family.
MJ: Any special talents or hobbies outside of football?
RH: My teammates know I like to dance. That’s something I really enjoy: dancing. I just pick up wherever I go. I don’t know swing, but I definitely want to learn it. I don’t know formal dancing well, but if you put me in a place where they’re playing, like hip-hop concert or something, that’s probably my first language when I’m dancing. But then, I’ve learned a lot of moves from my wife for house music. That’s a whole different style.
MJ: You’re pretty stoic in interviews, and you don’t show much emotion on the football field. How come?
RH: I heard that I was pretty tame when it comes to interviews, but I don’t know. I think you put me in the right situation and I’ll be outgoing and I feed off of other people and their energy. But at the same time, if I’m around a lot of people a lot of times, I’ll be withdrawn. I’m a mix of invert and extrovert. When it comes to celebrations in the end zone, my mindset is, ‘We haven’t won the game yet.’ But I did get really excited when I got into the end zone near the end of the Bears game, because that was a higher chance that we had won the game.
MJ: So we won’t see those dance skills from you in a game, huh?
RH: Yeah. I mean, if you score in the first quarter, you can still get your tails whooped, and then what is it? It’s just another guy doing another dance. But it’s a cool thing for other people, and I don’t want to downgrade what they do. But that’s just my style is, there’s too much time on the clock to dance in most cases.
MJ: What if it’s for a game-winner?
RH: I’m more of a dap my guys up and at the running back position, I think it’s a humbling position because literally, you do what you can, but so much of it depends on the offensive line and the wide receivers blocking downfield, and the tight ends, and you just run with your eyes and let your feet follow.