Change in Workouts Is Good for Royal
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Eddie Royal arrived at the Athletes' Performance at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla., shortly after his career as a Virginia Tech wide receiver concluded in January. He was intent on unleashing the same frenzied work ethic he employed while playing for the Hokies. Alongside several other draft prospects -- including teammates D.J. Parker, Vince Hall and Chris Ellis -- Royal pushed as hard as he could: more weight, more repetitions, more everything.
As Royal attacked the initial workouts, though, something odd happened, something Royal had never considered.
"I found people telling me I was doing too much work," Royal said.
This weekend, Virginia Tech may surpass its school record from 2006 of nine players chosen in one draft, led by possible first-round cornerback Brandon Flowers. While Flowers leads the pack, none of the Hokies solidified his draft standing this offseason more than Royal, who is from Herndon and won a high school state championship at Westfield his senior season.
Royal's sterling performance at the NFL combine, mixed with the appeal of being one of the elite return specialists in the draft, probably will allow him to hear his name called before the third round ends.
Royal entered the winter facing questions. At Virginia Tech, he had played with Josh Morgan, Justin Harper and Josh Hyman for four years, a balanced wide receiving corps that prevented any one player from producing eye-catching statistics. Talent evaluators wondered if Royal, at 5 feet 10 and 182 pounds, could stand up to the pounding NFL cornerbacks deliver at the line of scrimmage.
The first test came at the Senior Bowl, where Royal impressed scouts by fending off press coverage by some of the country's best cornerbacks. Then, at the NFL combine in February, Royal set himself apart. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, fifth among wide receivers. ("And he told me he could run a little better than he showed," Westfield Coach Tom Verbanic said.) He registered a 36-inch vertical leap, sixth best among receivers. And he bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times, best among wide receivers.
"I know I shocked a lot of guys at the combine," Royal said. "I take pride in that."
He forged the performance at the Athletes' Performance center in Florida, where he adapted to a new kind of training. Under strength coach Mike Gentry at Virginia Tech, Royal's focus was adding strength and size for the field. He approached weightlifting with the same zest he applied to most everything.
Royal would set up small, orange cones on a practice field by himself, then sprint around them to perfect his pass patterns. He would try to squeeze advice out of everyone -- he often chatted with Denie Marie, a facilities manager who once worked with wide receivers. As a freshman, even as his star quickly rose, Royal was shy around reporters. By his senior season, he became one of the most loquacious players on the team.
"He really cared about what people thought about him," Hokies trainer Mike Goforth said. "He was a very conscientious guy. He wanted to get better at everything."
At Athletes' Performance, that meant a mentality change. His program centered on him peaking for the combine, like a sprinter preparing for a race. Becoming a better football player became somewhat secondary to acing the combine drills.