Rust to shed, Royston back on field

As Kim Royston sat out the 2010 season, he watched coach Tim Brewster get fired, his team limp to a 3-9 record and his former school, Wisconsin, make a Rose Bowl appearance against TCU.

Josh Katzenstein

Before the Gophers played Wisconsin last season, senior safety Kim Royston said he felt 99.8 percent healthy and would be a âÄúgame-time decisionâÄù to play against his former team.

That was the closest Royston ever got to playing in 2010. He missed the entire season due to lingering effects of breaking two bones in his left leg during spring practice on April 16.

âÄúIt hurt him,âÄù fellow Minnesota defensive back Michael Carter said of Royston sitting out last season. âÄúIt hurt him real bad.âÄù

In the past year, Royston watched a 3-9 season from the bench and dealt with the turmoil of a head coaching change, while the team from which he transferred made it to the Rose Bowl. ItâÄôs been a trying 12 months for the 23-year-old.

âÄúThe whole past year has been an up and down rollercoaster,âÄù said Royston, one of last yearâÄôs two defensive captains, âÄúbut when I heard I got my sixth year [of eligibility] it was definitely a blessing.

âÄúNow IâÄôve just got to make the most of my opportunity and get back out there as a leader and as a ball player.âÄù

RoystonâÄôs near return last season wasnâÄôt purely optimistic. He had a legitimate chance to return, but the rod inserted into his left leg loosened, which caused the bone growth to stop, and forced him to undergo another surgery about three months ago.

Nearly a year since breaking his leg, Royston still isnâÄôt 100 percent healthy, but heâÄôs practicing in spring ball and hoping to impress a new coaching staff that refuses to play favorites.

âÄúOne play he looks good, next play he doesnâÄôt,âÄù defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. âÄúThat guy thatâÄôs up and down all the time is frustrating to coach, so hopefully the longer we go heâÄôll be more consistent.âÄù

Royston just wants to be âÄúthe old Kim,âÄù the one who started all 13 games in 2009 and finished third on the team in tackles with 86.

This year, though, Royston has to adjust to what Claeys called a âÄúcomplete overhaulâÄù of the defense. âÄúThat stuff we did last year is not acceptable anymore,âÄù Claeys said.

According to Royston, playing under a fourth head coach âÄî Bret Bielema, Tim Brewster, Jeff Horton in the interim and now Jerry Kill âÄî doesnâÄôt present as many challenges as some might think.

âÄúWhen you talk about [Division I] level, footballâÄôs football,âÄù he said. âÄúAll these players and coaches have a lot on the line. TheyâÄôre definitely going to try to get the most out of you.âÄù

ThatâÄôs why Royston is on the field. If he felt sore after practice, trainer Ed Lochrie would hold him out, Claeys said. Royston sat the second of back-to-back practices the first week of spring ball and didnâÄôt participate in full contact drills in the first padded practice last week.

But on Tuesday, he put 250-pound tight end Colin McGarry flat on his back.

âÄúHeâÄôs one of our leaders on defense,âÄù linebacker Keanon Cooper said last week. âÄúTo see him back on the field running around, participating and everything, itâÄôs a big lift for our defense.âÄù

The new coaches arenâÄôt ready to speculate about the leaders on the Gophers. Only one player, cornerback Troy Stoudermire, appears to be a first-team lock, Claeys said. Royston, meanwhile, still has to get back in shape after not playing for so long.

âÄúWe canâÄôt give him a lot of reps because heâÄôs not in the shape that he needs to be in, and he knows that,âÄù Kill said. âÄúI donâÄôt think thereâÄôs any question that heâÄôs a good football player and one we need.âÄù

Royston expected the mental aspect of coming back from the injury to be most difficult, but he hasnâÄôt felt much hesitation in spring ball. As hard as it may be to believe, the hardest part about coming back is that he hasnâÄôt played for a year. He might still be the GophersâÄô best safety, but he admits his coordination still isnâÄôt up to par.

Minnesota wonâÄôt play a game for another five months, and Claeys is hoping Royston will be ready by September. The players, on the other hand, already recognize Royston as a leader, even if some of them have yet to see him play a game.

âÄúAny time I have a question IâÄôm right in his ear,âÄù cornerback Brock Vereen, a true freshman last season, said. âÄúEven when I barely knew him I could tell how bad he wanted to be on the field, and itâÄôs just great to see how excited he is to be back.âÄù

RoystonâÄôs also excited for one final shot at winning Paul BunyanâÄôs Axe in a Gophers uniform. His other expectations, though lofty, just show what he calls a âÄúno-quit attitude.âÄù

âÄúEverything happens for a reason, and maybe weâÄôll get to the Rose Bowl this year or something,âÄù he said, alluding to WisconsinâÄôs 2010 season. âÄúComing off a 3-9 season we just have to form together into one unit and take each game one by one.âÄù

Tuesday notes

-Four players practiced in brown âÄúLophersâÄù jerseys Tuesday, most notably defensive tackle Anthony Jacobs. Unlike previous brown jersey wearers, Jacobs and two of the others participated fully.

 âÄúIâÄôm here to take care of our players,âÄù Kill said. âÄúThereâÄôs a method to my madness.âÄù

-Wide receiver Victor Keise practiced for the first time. Kill will wait until he watches film to make an evaluation. Fellow receiver Brandon Green was slowed by a groin injury. Kill also said speedy freshman receiver Marcus Jones will not redshirt as long as he stays healthy.

-Linebacker Gary Tinsley changed from an orange jersey to a limited green jersey Tuesday. Kill said his hamstring is up to 75 percent. Safety Christyn Lewis was also in green with an ankle sprain.

-TuesdayâÄôs best play came on a 40-yard pass from Tom Parish to A.J. Barker. Kill called the play a sack, but was still impressed with the toss. âÄúHe stood right in the face of the guy about to hit him in the mouth, and he threw the heck out of the ball,âÄù Kill said.