Twenty-three years after his playing days were over, former Ashland University All-American defensive end Bill Royce is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Royce is part of the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame class, along with 13 other players and two coaches, as announced on Friday (Jan. 8) afternoon. He is the second Ashland football connection to the Hall, along with former head coach Dr. Fred Martinelli, who was inducted in 2002.
"I'm pretty well shocked," Royce said. "I got the football (in the mail), and I didn't know what it was. It said you are in the class of 2016, and I sat down. Coach Martinelli has been driving this, along with (AU Director of Athletics) Al King and Ralph Tomassi. You look at that list of players, and it just blows your mind. You're talking the best of the best.
"First and foremost, I want to give honor and glory to the Lord. Then, it is my brothers in arms, my teammates – the university, my coaches, my teammates. I'm part of something bigger than just me."
"Bill was a phenomenal player," said King. "He was the conference player of the year and a Harlon Hill candidate, and that was unheard of for a defensive player. There were games where teams found it nearly impossible to block Bill. Teams would run two and three blockers at him, and he still got pressure on the pocket, and many times, got a sack.
"I'm excited for Bill and our football program. With Bill's selection, Ashland University joins some select company. Bill and his coach, Dr. Fred Martinelli, are Hall of Fame inductees, and very few small colleges and universities can claim two Hall of Famers."
Royce will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 6, 2016, at the National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
"I chatted with coach Martinelli. He was the first guy I called," said Royce, who was looking for advice for when the induction arrives. "It's nice having him coach me again after all these years. I'm really looking forward to it."
Joining Royce as 2016 College Football Hall of Famers are Nebraska-Omaha quarterback Marlin Briscoe, Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks, Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau, UNLV quarterback-punter Randall Cunningham, Iowa State tailback Troy Davis, North Carolina defensive tackle William Fuller, LSU quarterback Bert Jones, Wisconsin defensive lineman Tim Krumrie, Harvard tight end Pat McInally, Colorado defensive end Herb Orvis, Washington State guard Mike Utley, Georgia defensive back Scott Woerner, Purdue defensive back Rod Woodson, New Hampshire head coach Bill Bowes and Lycoming head coach Frank Girardi.
Among the 2016 Hall of Famers, Royce is one of four conference players of the year, one of five who played for Hall of Fame head coaches and one of three players who is his school's first Hall of Fame player inductee.
Royce's 71 career sacks not only are an NCAA Division II record, but they are an NCAA record for any level. He has the top three single-season sack marks in Ashland football history (20½ in 1993, 20 in 1992 and 18½ in 1991), and the program's single-game sack record (3½ at Wayne State on Oct. 2, 1993).
One of the best players in the early days of the Midwest Intercollegiate Football Conference, Royce was a two-time All-American, the 1993 MIFC Player of the Year, a two-time MIFC Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time MIFC Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Royce, a two-time Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II Player of the Year) candidate in 1992 and 1993, ranks in a tie for ninth on AU's all-time rolls in career tackles with 366.
In Royce's four years as an Eagle, the program had a record of 33-10-1 (.761).
Royce, who resides in Galion, still is a part of the Eagle football family more than two decades after his playing career ended.
"Bill is a member of our Gridiron Club board and he's not just a member, he's an active participant in that organization," King said. "He attends games, meetings and club functions, and has consistently given back to his alma mater and the football program.
"People like Bill Royce don't come along every day. Those of us at Ashland University know how fortunate we are to call him one of ours."
Said Royce, "It's an honor to be able to serve. I feel it's a way to give back. I was recruited for the Gridiron Board by Don Graham. When I was playing with my teammates in the early '90s, we went into the MIFC and there was an attitude of, 'What are these guys doing here?' When you really look back, those guys were there to go to school and play football, and we weren't intimidated by anybody. Being part of that process is a cornerstone to what coach (Lee) Owens is doing right now.
"I'm more of a team guy. I love the game. It's going to take me a while for it to sink in."