In 2008, Dylan Royer walked onto the Cal Poly men’s basketball team. He will soon walk off as a scholarship player.
Royer was recruited by a few Division II colleges out of nearby Morro Bay High School, including Concordia University and UC San Diego. Some even offered him scholarships, but Cal Poly offered opportunity.
Former head coach Kevin Bromley met with Royer near the end of his time in high school and promised the budding star a long-term roster spot after a redshirt season.
“(I was offered) a guaranteed four years on the team, I just wouldn’t have a scholarship,” Royer said. “I talked about it with my parents and thought about it for a while, and decided I wanted to give it a shot at Division I.”
Other walk-ons had been offered the same deal during Bromley’s tenure, which gave the coach added credibility, Royer said. Bromley also extended roster spots to former players Jordan Lewis and Matt Titchenal.
But by the time Royer got to campus in the fall, Bromley had been ousted following a 7-21 season and Royer’s four-year roster spot was in jeopardy.
The poor season made fans think the new head coach, Joe Callero, would start anew and rid himself of some parts of the previous regime, including the three walk-ons.
“The whole team, but really us three I think, were worried he might come in and clear house, tell people they weren’t on the team anymore,” Royer said. “We had to prove ourselves, and it ended up working out in our favor.”
Scholarship players and walk-ons both had to earn their spots on the team. While everyone made the cut, the tryouts sparked something within Royer, Callero said.
“What it did for Dylan, it made him equal to everybody,” Callero said. “He didn’t look at it like, ‘I’m a walk-on’ anymore, and he started working with the notion that it’s a free-enterprise system.”
Players of all economic standings were treated the same, Royer said. Callero gave everyone on the roster the opportunity to earn a starting spot.
“I’ve heard about some schools where walk-ons are treated differently, but here I’ve never found any difference,” Royer said. “At the end of the day, you’re just one of the guys.”
Redshirting meant Royer practiced with the team but he was ineligible to play throughout his freshman year.
Royer’s playing time was pretty much the same after his redshirt season. He saw the court for just 3.3 minutes per game during 15 contests in his first season of eligibility.
In his sophomore year, Royer actually played two fewer games, and his minutes went up only marginally. Near the season’s closing, he saw a little more court time.
“I started playing more at the end of the year,” Royer said. “In the last few games, I had some double-digit minutes.”
Those extra minutes and additional time playing Division I basketball carried over to a productive 2011-12 campaign in his junior year, when he posted 7.5 points per game while playing in every contest.
It was physical and mental growth that earned Royer a full scholarship for the following year, Callero said.
“He improved his body,” Callero said. “He became stronger, became quicker and more aggressive. He’s a leader in the classroom, a leader in the community, a leader in the locker room.”
Royer never focused on playing for a scholarship, even when Lewis earned his. He remained hopeful, but understood the situation Callero was in.
“It’s really hard to give someone a scholarship in the middle of their career,” Royer said. “To recruit for the future, you need to be able to give scholarships to incoming freshmen.”
Now, the move is paying dividends for Callero’s Mustangs, who are the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Big West Conference Tournament that starts Thursday. Royer has responded with the best season of his career, averaging 9.9 points per game, 2.3 rebounds per game, 1.1 assists per game and 0.8 steals per game.
The guard also set his then-career high with 20 points against UC Davis, Cal Poly’s tournament-opening opponent, on Feb. 9. The sharp-shooting Royer later dropped 23 points against UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge.
After this past Saturday’s game, a 62-60 win over Cal State Fullerton, fellow seniors Chris O’Brien and Drake U’u joined Royer in thanking the fans. It was the last game any of them would play at Mott Athletics Center.
O’Brien knows Royer well from living with him, as well as Lewis and junior forward Chris Eversley.
“Dylan is one of a kind,” O’Brien said. “He’s always positive, he’s great to room with — my roommate — and a heck of a player, but an even better friend and person. It’s been an honor to play and grow with him the last four years.”