MOSCOW, Idaho – The last time he spoke to Robb Akey, Idaho wide receiver Ken McRoyal shared his excitement about landing a scholarship for the fall. He had earned it with a stellar spring camp, and now he was leaving for Los Angeles to see his young daughter and family.
“I can still see the smile on his face,” Akey said Sunday evening with a broken voice, recalling the conversation from last week.
McRoyal was shot and killed at around 1:30 a.m. Sunday at a party at the Brewery Artist Lofts in Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights neighborhood. The Los Angeles Times reported that a second man who was shot at the party was in stable condition Sunday morning at a Long Beach hospital.
McRoyal, 22, had walked on to UI last fall. The former El Camino Junior College wideout moved to California after he and his family were displaced from New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina.
McRoyal played eight games last year for the Vandals, catching eight passes for 35 yards, and was expected to be a major contributor this fall as a senior.
“(It’s) hard to deal with, but we’ve got to help our players get through it,” Akey said. “And the worst part of it all … is that there’s a momma that lost her son and a family that’s one short now. It’s hard on everybody, I think.”
Most UI football players scattered from campus last week with the close of the spring semester. The Vandals’ summer football program starts on June 11, and McRoyal had written on his Facebook page that he was going to the L.A. area to spend time with his daughter, have a Memorial Day barbeque with his family and work out.
Former Idaho running back Princeton McCarty said he and McRoyal were on the same plane from Pullman to Seattle on Wednesday. McCarty was off to start offseason workouts as a rookie free agent with the Carolina Panthers and McRoyal was headed to California.
“We weren’t best buds, but he wished me well when we were waiting for our flight,” McCarty said. “… He was a great teammate of mine and I know his memory will hold dear to many.”
McCarty, who finished his Idaho career last fall, said McRoyal was “a very outgoing player so everybody knew him. A lot of people were close to him.”
When McCarty and other former UI players were training this spring in advance of the NFL draft, McRoyal was one of the few current members of the roster who worked out with them.
“I knew he wanted to have a good senior year and he was putting in extra work,” McCarty said. “He wanted to put in extra work to get to the NFL.”
One of the biggest reasons McRoyal came to Idaho was because of quarterback Dominique Blackman. Akey said the two former Carson High players are “basically cousins,” and both were back in the L.A. area this past weekend.
A grieving Blackman posted dozens of messages on his Twitter page Sunday, writing in one of them that he was going to change his jersey number from 3 to 86 this fall to honor McRoyal.
“I told (him) he would catch my 1st college pass #RIP86,” Blackman wrote. “I love you I’m in your room right now thinking bout it all.”
Akey said he awoke to a call from McRoyal’s cousin at 6:20 a.m. Sunday. His assistant coaches then notified Vandal players and Akey called each Idaho captain.
“They’re our kids, our family, however you want to (put) it,” Akey said. “Having a family, I’ve got to make sure they all know we love them. And so I’m just glad I was able to tell K that when he left town – those were probably the last words out of my mouth when I said goodbye to him.”
McRoyal’s death comes almost eight years after Idaho football player Eric McMillan was murdered at an off-campus Moscow apartment. Akey took over the program two years later, in December 2006.