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SIGNING DAY: AJ Royal's year at Eastside paid off as he signs to St. Francis in Illinois
AJ Royal
Eastside defensive back, AJ Royal signs his letter of intent to the University of St. Francis, a NAIA school just outside of Chicago. -photo by Matt Grimes

COVINGTON, Ga. — Injuries, constant relocations and lack of playing time prior to his senior year were not enough to keep cornerback A.J. Royal from achieving his dream of playing college football.

“It means a lot,” Royal said. “A lot. To move up here and get offered period, it’s rare for any high school athlete to get an offer, so it’s an incredible experience for me. Imagine if I had played all four years without injury, I mean, one year and I get offered. That’s huge.”

Royal will be taking his talents north to Joliet, Illinois as he furthers his education and playing career at the University of St. Francis, a NAIA school that’s an hour’s drive south from Chicago.

Moving from Georgia to Illinois may seem daunting to your average high school student, but Royal is not worried about the move because relocating has always been a big part of Royal’s life.

“I’ve moved several times so this is just another move to me,” Royal said. “Coming from a tiny little school in Mission, Texas that you’ve probably never heard of, it means a lot to move up here back with my family.”

According to Royal, one of the best moves in his life came last May when he moved from Mission, Texas to Covington, Georgia where he found a new home and family at Eastside.

“I literally just hit the lottery coming here with this team,” Royal said. “Went 12-1, that’s rare. Best in the county. That’s crazy. It was just outstanding how they took me in as family immediately. As soon as I moved in, they took me in.”

AJ Royal
Eastside defensive back AJ Royal made the most of his limited time in the Eagles' football program, registering 36 total tackles, three interceptions and two pass breakups in 2018. -File Photo

This Eastside family played a large part in Royal’s success, and he had nothing but love to give to all of his teammates and coaches, but Royal said that if he had to attribute his success to one man, it would have to be his dad, Casey Royal. 

A.J. said that if not for his dad, he would still be in Texas and not only would his high school career be over, but also his football career. He was truly thankful for all of the hard work his father had put in to help him get to this point, but his dad had nothing but praise for him.

“I am ecstatic,” Casey Royal said. “It’s 18 long years, a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifices. We’re just excited to have him back, and he blossomed this year. He’s somebody who is going to work hard. He’s a quiet kid, extremely humble and is all about family and taking care of his teammates, and he’s a very quick learner.”

Casey Royal was beaming as he continued to heap praise on his son for the hard work that he has put in, but he was not the only one who saw Royal’s immense talent this season. 

Head coach Troy Hoff knows first hand how special of a player Royal is and the vast potential he will bring to St. Francis.

“He’s a hard-working kid that has tremendous upside, and once he got more and more confident in the scheme, we could see the type of player that he is,” said Hoff. “They’re really getting a hard-working kid that will only get better.”