From the beginning, Chris Royal has played arena football with a chip on his shoulder.
”I want to prove I can be a great player in all of football,“ he said.
Royal, a defensive back, was arenafootball2's 2007 Rookie of the Year. He started this season in the Arena Football League, but he has bounced around among several teams.
The Lexington Horsemen signed Royal last week, and he will be in the lineup at the Louisville Fire Monday night.
Kickoff is 7:30 at Freedom Hall between two contenders in the Midwest Division. The Horsemen are 7-4; the Fire are 6-5, including two victories over the af2 expansion team east on Interstate 64.
AFL scouts watched Royal dominate af2. He led the league in interceptions (14), was second in pass breakups (43) and wound up third in tackles (117) for Arena Cup runner-up Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Royal has been on a self-described ”nationwide tour“ to find a good fit for his talent. It included three stops with AFL teams.
He ended up starting the season in Philadelphia, but a hip flexor led to his release. He spent six weeks with Cleveland before his release.
Royal played two games with the Georgia Force, picking off a pass and recording 17 tackles then was released.
”Georgia liked everything about me,“ Royal said, ”but they said I wasn't mixing in with the veterans.“
Royal was confused.
”It's not how good you are individually,“ he said. ”It's how well you jell with the other guys and how well you pick up the system. I learned a lot.“
The lessons included a return to af2.
”I decided it was best to help a team trying to go to the playoffs,“ he said.
Royal, like several Horsemen, played college ball at Marshall. When Lexington was allowed to contact him, he worked out, the Horsemen offered a contract and he signed.
”It's all about timing, the right timing,“ Lexington Coach Mike Harmon said. ”Chris understands the arena game. He understands how to attack routes. To some extent, he's a gambler, but he tends to gamble correctly.“
The Horsemen may have to gamble against their I-64 rival to avoid their third loss to the Fire.
”We have to play patient football,“ Harmon said. ”They got in our heads a couple of times earlier.
Lexington quarterback Eddie Eviston is back on the active roster and will start after two weeks on the suspended list with an injury. Ryan Mitch took over as the starter.
”We've got to win to stay on pace in the division and stay ahead of Louisville,“ Harmon said.
The Fire have clinched the season series with 61-34 and 61-31 victories.