At Nebraska, Roy Helu was one of the most productive running backs in the country, averaging 5.9 yards per carry for his career and finishing with 28 touchdowns, all on the ground. Through the air, he caught 54 balls for 501 yards over 48 career games for Big Red.
He never caught more eight passes in a game, and was held without a reception in half of those games.
As a member of the Redskins, Helu has already caught 38 passes for 267 yards in just 10 games. He has broken the Redskins franchise record for receptions in a single game (14), and has as many 100-yard receiving games as 100-yard rushing games (one).
So what’s the big change? Helu credits offseason corrective eye surgery for his dramatic turnaround.
“I can’t actually see the spiral of the ball now,” Helu said. “The biggest difference is that from me to you (about six feet), I would lose the ball and it would kind of snap my head back. I didn’t have good depth perception.”
Prior to the surgery, Helu suffered from nearsightedness and astigmatism. After surgery, he has great vision and his very own extended commercial spot for Sutton Linder & Sutton:
“There were results right away in terms of seeing the ball: the rotation of it and it not sneaking up on me,” he explained. “You can even talk to my old quarterback. We threw after I had Lasik, and he noticed a difference even half a week after I had the surgery.”
And there was a little bit of jealousy for the old quarterback.
“He texted me after the 49ers game and said, ‘Oh, so you’ve got hands now?'” he said with a laugh. “But he said that I was looking the ball into my hands and he didn’t see my head pop.”
But what would a dramatic improvement be without a good conspiracy theory? Special thanks to cornerback Brandyn Thompson who assisted me with the next part of the interview:
Brandyn Thompson: “Would you say that it was the Lasik surgery that did it, or the fact that you now have Spidey Senses, and your Spidey Senses kick in when the ball gets close?”
Roy Helu: “It’s a little bit of both. I think the Spidey Senses definitely kick in when you get more reps in practice and more reps in the game. So it actually contributes to being sharper overall.”
Yours Truly: “So did you actually have eye surgery, or were you in fact bitten by a radioactive spider?”
Roy Helu: “It was definitely both. At first it was kind of like…I’m in high school and I have these super powers…what do I do with them? Here comes this guy coming down the hall with a varsity jacket on. And he throws a punch, and I just start dodging it…and then the football appears out of the hallway and I can catch it.”
[Editor’s Note: In case none of that exchange makes sense, go watch the first Spiderman movie.]
Helu also gave credit to his coaches for helping to improve his mental and physical mechanics, as well as an increased sense of focus that allows him to catch short passes out of the backfield. The three elements together have given the Redskins an explosive super hero in the running game.