University of Minnesota
Gophers safety Kim Royston receives a pat on the helmet from linebacker Gary Tinsley. Royston is a sure tackler who was granted a rare sixth season of football eligibility by the NCAA.
Photo: Eric Miller, courtesy University Athletics
'Broken' but not bent out of shape
Kim Royston returns for a sixth season of college football
By Rick Moore
It’s about a minute before the opening kickoff of the Minnesota vs. Nebraska Homecoming game, and Kim Royston is dancing energetically—like no one’s watching—to an up-tempo song on the Gopher sideline.
This is the last step in getting fired up for the first Big Ten home game of his final season, but there’s also likely some joy that he’s still playing the game he loves at age 24. For his has been a remarkable odyssey.
When Royston began his college football career in 2006, Glen Mason was coaching the Gophers, the unemployment rate was about 4.5 percent, and the housing market looked fairly rosy.
Since then, Royston played two years for the Wisconsin Badgers; moved back to Minnesota to be near his grandmother and play for the Gophers; had to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer regulations; made 86 tackles as a junior in 2009; shattered his leg during spring practice in 2010 (and couldn’t recover in time to play last fall); was granted a rare sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA; and now is a senior leader for the Golden Gophers.
“It’s been quite the roller coaster, and nothing I would have imagined coming out of high school in 2006—that all this would happen to me,” Royston says. “But you can’t ever have any regrets in what you do. The adversity that I’ve been through, it kind of sounds cliché, but I think it really has shaped me into a better person—a better person in sports and in life in general.”
Royston finished his prep career as a highly heralded, all-state player at football powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall, and chose to attend the University of Wisconsin. He played there for two years, mostly on special teams.
Then he decided to transfer to the University of Minnesota, primarily to be near his grandmother, who was critically ill. “At the end of the day it worked out,” says Royston. “I got to be with her and I got to play football for my home state.”
But NCAA regulations required that he sit out a year before playing at Minnesota. After a successful junior season in 2009—86 tackles including a game-high 15 in the Insight Bowl—Royston met with a bad break in 2010. During a spring practice, he landed awkwardly on his leg and suffered a gruesome compound fracture.
“It just taught me to keep persevering, to never give up no matter what you do,” he says. “If you’re going to be successful in life you’re going to have adversity. When you fall you can’t stay laying down; you gotta get back up.”
Getting back up was one thing. Getting back into the game was another.
A lost season, but not all is lost
Royston tried to rehab in short order to come back for the 2010 season. Things looked good through much of the summer, but the bone stopped healing properly and he was never able see action in 2010, which looked to be the end of his playing career.
But last spring the NCAA showed some compassion—in part from learning the reasons for Royston’s transfer back to Minnesota—and granted him a rare sixth season of eligibility.
It means that he’s now the butt of some age jokes and a new nickname, Father Time, but Royston is simply feeling blessed and fortunate: to be playing another season of football and doing so with a new coaching staff trying to turn the program around.
“Coach Kill definitely has a plan,” he says. “He’s a great man and a great coach. Being under his coaching staff is another great opportunity I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t break my leg, if I didn’t get my sixth year back.”
Kim Royston led the Gophers with 11 tackles against North Dakota State. Photo: Eric Miller
While Royston would love a shot at the National Football League, he’s giving himself other options. He has a bachelor’s degree in hand and is working on a master’s in sports management.
“I definitely feel like I’m wiser, I’m stronger,” he says. “Like I said, you’re going to have negative things happen to you in life, but you can’t [dwell] on them. Naturally, you’re going to feel sorry for yourself a little bit, but you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and know that this is happening for a positive reason—no matter if you can see it at that time or not.
“But when it’s all done and the rain is over, the sun always comes out, right?”
Which may explain why Royston was dancing on the sideline before his last Homecoming game. Without his injury, he wouldn’t have had the chance to play against Nebraska for the first time, let alone make 10 tackles. In the sun.
In his final collegiate game, Royston turned in another strong effort that earned him a Co-Defensive Player of the Week honor from the Big Ten. He recorded 13 tackles vs. Illinois—the eighth time this year he finished a game with 10 or more stops. He also had a pass breakup in the game and added his first career sack on the final play. Said Royston afterward: "I am just extremely, extremely happy for my last play to be a sack instead of my last play being a broken leg."