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Friday, March 25, 2011
Gophers' Royston thankful for final chance

By Adam Rittenberg

When Kim Royston showed up at Big Ten media days last August, his return seemed imminent.

Less than four months removed from a broken leg and multiple surgeries, Royston hoped to be ready for Minnesota's season opener, if not soon thereafter. The safety was rehabbing six days a week. His leg seemed to be healing rapidly, ahead of schedule. But then the bone growth stopped, and so did Royston's comeback attempt.

Nearly a year after breaking two bones in his left leg, Kim Royston was cleared to return to spring practice this week.
Doctors discovered the rod that had been inserted in Royston's leg during an earlier surgery was moving around. He would never see the field during the 2010 season, as Minnesota tumbled to 3-9 and went through a coaching change.

"It was real tough," Royston said. "It was my senior year, I expected to have a big year, help out my teammates. And with the season not going well, it really just hurt my heart. But everything happens for a reason."

Royston on Thursday completed his first full-go practice in "damn near a year" as Minnesota opened spring ball. After undergoing another surgery in December to insert a larger rod that stabilized the bone, Royston received some very good news Jan. 24.

The NCAA had granted him a sixth year of eligibility. His college career wasn't over yet.

"I'm really excited," said Royston, who had missed another season (2008) after transferring to Minnesota from Wisconsin. "This whole past year has been an up-and-down roller coaster. I did have NFL aspirations. I didn't know if I'd be ready for a pro day after missing a year. I didn't know what was going to happen. So when I got a call from the NCAA, I just screamed out loud and thought to myself, 'Now it's time to get after it and make something out of my new opportunity.'"

The process began Thursday as Minnesota went through its first workout under new coach Jerry Kill and his staff. Royston felt good after the practice, saying his coordination and speed were better than he expected.

His reps will be monitored this spring, but he's expected to have a featured role on the Gophers' defense this fall. Royston started every game at safety in 2009, recording 86 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and seven passes defended. He finished the season with four double-digit tackles performances and racked up a game-high 15 stops against Iowa State in the Insight Bowl.

Royston's production and leadership would have been valuable for a Gophers defense last fall that at times played with 11 new starters. Now he gets a chance to contribute.

"That's a big thing with me being a sixth-year senior, being around for a while, I'm definitely going to try and bring that to the table," Royston said. "This year we have a little more experience and we have me back in a leadership role. I think as a whole the defense will be a lot better."