CHARLESTON, S.C. – Demetri Royer took time to soak in the scene. After redshirting in 2015 and missing nearly all of 2016 with a torn left ACL suffered in the season opener at North Dakota State, last Saturday's Mississippi State game carried a little extra earning for Charleston Southern's starting free safety.
"It was kind of surreal because I was standing out there for the first play, lined up and it was just like 'okay, I'm out here now,'" Royer said. "It was an amazing stadium and a great atmosphere. I did make a couple of mistakes but that's football. You gotta bounce back from it."
Royer also made more than a few plays, tallying a team-high 12 tackles and a pass breakup in his first start since he was a two-way star at Florida's Clearwater Central Catholic High School. Toughness made Royer an appealing prospect for CSU, and that quality showed up during the rehabilitation process that culminated in a starting spot.
"I trusted it," Royer said. "I never once really doubted that my knee was still hurt and that helped me get back."
"We all had to fight for a spot," continued Royer, who was limited to no contact during spring practice. "My first goal was to get back to 100 percent healthy and let the coaches know 'look, I'm healthy, I can make it through a season let alone a game.' We worked all summer. Coach (Chad) Scott really got us in shape, got me back and it's paying off."
Royer came to CSU after Akron and Coastal Carolina both withdrew scholarship offers. He recounted the persistent effort current CSU head coach Mark Tucker, who handles the Bucs' Florida recruiting, put in throughout the process.
"Coach Tucker, he visited me every other week and called me every week," Royer said. "My coaches were really pushing Charleston Southern. I didn't trust it at first but I prayed about it and it really felt like the right fit, especially when I came here and visited."
Tucker, who also recruited defensive stars Anthony Ellis and Johnny Robinson out of the Sunshine State, is confident Royer will continue to contribute as he gains more experience. His versatility has already proved valuable for the Bucs.
"He's very physical and that was never a question," Tucker said. "We actually moved him down to play SPUR, our SAM linebacker position, last year and felt like he would provide solid depth behind Bobby (Ruff). With what we lost at safety, we had to move him back this past spring. He was incredibly aggressive with his rehab and we're comfortable with him back there."
Royer, who played quarterback, running back and wide receiver in high school, is comfortable in the athletic realm. His mother, Brenda Dupuis, played golf at Arizona State, while his father, Christian Royer, played professional hockey in Quebec, Canada. The younger Royer took to hockey from a young age before placing his focus on the gridiron.
"I grew up playing hockey my whole life and I was in the rink all the time," Royer said. "My dad had a travel team that he owned so we went to Chicago and other places when I was little. It's a lot more difficult to skate but the physical part, hockey definitely helped with."
Mike Adams, in his first year as CSU's safeties coach, is helping Royer develop into a complete safety. Adams arrived as part of Tucker's staff last winter, and the work he put in with the safeties over the summer has been beneficial.
"Over the summer, he got me into backpedaling and footwork and all the safety work you need to perfect," Royer said. "He's had a big impact. I've learned so much from him and he just wants you to be great. He preaches everyday 'you can be average but if you want to be great, then do these things.'
"Now that I'm playing back there, there's more responsibility," Royer continued of the transition to safety. I gotta play coverage, cover 1-on-1 and cover the middle of the field. It's fun because I can see the whole field back there and see everything going on in front of me. We know when we do what we're supposed to do, we've got talent back there."