Gophers' Royston maintains focus for former team

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Wisconsin-Minnesota game will always be known as the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, but this year's contest could carry a different title: The Kim Royston Classic.

Royston, the starting free safety for Minnesota, spent his first two seasons at Wisconsin before transferring last fall, largely because of a lack of playing time.

The process wasn't easy, as Big Ten rules prevented Royston from accepting a scholarship to Minnesota. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema also initially didn't grant Royston's release, preventing him from talking to Minnesota's coaches until after he had been admitted to school.

When Royston takes the field Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, noon ET), Bielema and his former Badgers teammates will be waiting on the opposite sideline. Royston will receive instructions from Gophers co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Ron Lee, who actually recruited Royston to Wisconsin when he served on Barry Alvarez's staff from 2003-05. It should be a surreal experience for Royston, but he expects to maintain his focus.

"Once I come out the tunnel I’ll probably feel totally different, but like I’ve said, I’m going to try to hold back my emotions, because you can’t play with your emotions," Royston told reporters Tuesday. "Just go out there level-headed."

Royston maintains contact with several of his former Badgers teammates, and they've talked about the game in recent months. Communication lines will be down this week, but there's not much else that needs to be said.

"Between me and him it's friendly," Badgers safety Jay Valai told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But between him and this university obviously it is a little different. Kim is going to want blood. You all better be ready. He is dead serious. He wants a little revenge.

"I would be, too, if I were him. It's going to be judgment day for him."

Royston has filled a valuable role for the Gophers, who lost starting safety Tramaine Brock this summer because of academic issues. He ranks fifth on the team in tackles (17) with an interception and two passes defended.

"The day is coming up soon," he said. "It’s just going to be a crazy atmosphere and a crazy experience with me, because I came into school with a lot of the guys that I’m going to be playing against and I grew fond relationships. But once we get on the field, it’s football time.

"You just have to stay focused on the task at hand and not look in the past."