Westfield head football coach Tom Verbanic knew what he was getting when Evan Royster showed up on the football field during the summer before Royster’s freshman year. Verbanic, who coached Evan’s older brother Brandon for four years from 1996 to 1999, was well aware of the talent that the younger Royster possessed. He wasted no time bringing Royster up to the varsity squad.
"It wouldn’t be right to put him on the freshman team. He was so physically gifted and had some of the best natural talent that I’ve seen," said Verbanic.
After coaching Brandon to two undefeated regular seasons at Fairfax High School, Verbanic moved to Westfield High School to set up the Bulldogs’ new football program.
Royster’s mother Dawna, a teacher at Fairfax, made the switch as well, transferring to Westfield and giving Evan the opportunity to play for Verbanic.
"It was important to me [for Evan to go to Westfield] because I knew what an upstanding coach Verbanic was and I wanted Evan to have that same mentoring that Brandon did," said Dawna.
In his freshman year, the Bulldogs went 10-0 in the regular season, but fell in the first round of the playoffs.
"That year taught him what it takes to win," said Verbanic. "[But we knew that] we had something bigger to do. He was fortunate to be around such a determined team."
His next year, Royster averaged nearly 150 yards-per-game rushing and helped lead the Bulldogs to a state championship.
"He got the taste of the limelight – the taste of winning," said Verbanic.
The win was not only the Bulldog’s first state championship, but also the first for Verbanic and the Royster family.
"It was great to see Evan and Verbanic win the game," said Brandon. "We felt like we were winning it too because it was the same coaching staff."
ROYSTER RECENTLY finished his stellar high school career with 750 rushes for 6,384 yards and 90 total touchdowns. Last season, he was named the AAA Northern Region offensive player of the year, rushing for 2,161 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Towards the end of his high school career, Royster began to receive scholarship offers from schools across the country. One of the first schools that made an offer was the University of Washington, whose coach, Tyron Willingham, had coached Brandon at Stanford. In the end, Royster had narrowed the schools down to Nebraska and Penn State, before choosing Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions.
"Penn State just felt right to him," said Dawna.
Royster is currently training for his upcoming season at Penn State. While Verbanic believes that it’s hard to tell if Evan will have success at the next level, he feels that he’s already stepping in the right direction.
"It’s always hard to predict no matter how good a kid is in high school how well he is going to do at the next level. But he has some things going for him," said Verbanic. "One is his physical strength. He’s a hard worker in the weight room. That gives him a big heads up on a lot of kids. The second thing is that he wants to win. I think that that puts him apart from other kids — his competitive nature."
Verbanic said that the coaches at Penn State believe that Royster is already way ahead of the other incoming freshmen because Penn State and Westfield’s offenses are so similar.
"They are excited because they think that he will fit right in very quickly."
Evan Royster is 28 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.