By Hilary Winter
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Roy Helu Jr. takes his time to think about each question, he takes his time to plan the next move he will make, and he takes his time in reflecting upon the experiences he has had at Nebraska. He does this because he knows there is no easy or cookie-cutter answer. There is nothing that quite explains how he came from Danville, Calif., to Lincoln, Neb.
"I told my mom that I wasn't going to come here when we got on the plane to go back to California," Helu said. "It was just one of those 'God' things for me to leave California. I know at that moment there is nothing that pushed me toward here except for something I didn't know about, something bigger."
During his time as a Husker, he has transformed as a person and as a player on the football field. From the first steps he took on the campus of UNL, to his final days in the scarlet and cream uniform, he knows that the process of growing is never ending.
"I think the biggest change, and I'm not even close to being at the point where I should be, is self-worship," Helu said. "I was really involved in myself when I came here, as most of the recruits who come in are. (It's) just being humble and having a good perspective of who I am, in relation to being a part from the team and community and the world. I am just a tiny person. I never (understood) that until I came here."
Helu began his time at Nebraska as one of 11 true freshmen to play in 2007. Now he has prepared for his senior season as one of the most productive rushers in the Big 12 Conference. He has amassed more than 2,000 rushing yards over the past three seasons, including a 1,000-yard rushing campaign as a junior in 2009. In 2010, he is expected to be the veteran leader of the Nebraska running back corps. As that leader, Helu has become a much more vocal team member.
"When I was younger it was hard for me to get vocal, but I would say stuff in my head and then would talk it out personally with people," Helu said. "Now it is kind of a different role being more established and having newer guys who come in and aren't as comfortable being where I was. It's a little bit of both (aspects of leadership)."
Helu's evolution has not gone unnoticed by the Nebraska coaching staff. Running backs coach Tim Beck has had a close eye on Helu since his first days as a Husker and has noticed his transformation.
"I've been really very pleased and impressed with Roy," Beck said. "He's always been a guy who's worked extremely hard. He is continuing to do that. Being a senior, he has taken on a lot more leadership, which he has always kind of done in his work ethic and demeanor and how he's handled himself off the field. I've been pleased with the way he's been playing. I've been pleased with his leadership, and I expect a good year from him."
Helu is majoring in sociology and has been a regular volunteer through NU's community outreach initiatives. He has worked with numerous FCA activities, as well as volunteering at Elliot Elementary School in Lincoln and as part of the Huskers' team hospital visits.
In addition, Helu enjoys visiting the elderly in various Lincoln homes and talking to them about their lives and the experiences they've had. He knows that giving back to the community isn't just a good idea, it's something that is expected.
"We're in a position as athletes at the University. I think it is a duty of ours to get involved, whatever that looks like," Helu said. "It doesn't have to be you going out on stuff that is planned. It could be things that people don't even know about. I think as athletes, it's our duty. I wouldn't even say it's giving back to the community, but just doing our part."
It's easy to understand why Helu cannot characterize his Nebraska experience in a simple way. He left the Lincoln Airport as a senior in high school ready to take his collegiate journey somewhere else, but four years later he has left an undeniable mark on the people of Nebraska and Husker fans everywhere through his humble demeanor and hard-working attitude.