Andre Roberts' NFL dream comes true
04/25/2010 12:00 AM
04/24/2010 11:18 PM
After Andre Roberts' freshman season at The Citadel, Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins met with the Columbia native and asked him what his goals were.
Having just completed his knob year, Roberts wanted nothing to do with a career in the military.
Instead, Roberts told Higgins he wanted to play in the NFL - a standard response for SEC and ACC standouts, but one that might be considered a reach coming from an undersized receiver at an undersized school in the Southern Conference.
But three years and eight school records later, Roberts has realized his dream.
The Arizona Cardinals selected Roberts in the third round, No. 88 overall, on Friday in the NFL draft. It is the highest a Citadel player has been drafted since linebacker John Small was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1970.
Roberts is the 12th Citadel player selected in the NFL draft, and the second since 1995. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Roberts joins a Cardinals' receiving corps that includes Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet.
The Cardinals look at Roberts as a replacement for Steve Breaston as a punt returner. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt says he wants to ease the load on Breaston now that the receiver has moved up to the No. 2 spot following the trade of Anquan Boldin. Whisenhunt also likes the idea of Roberts as a slot receiver.
"They have some good receivers right now," Roberts said. "I'm ready to work and try to make my way in there, play and produce and hopefully try to win a championship."
Roberts celebrated with his family and friends at his parents' house in Northeast Richland, where they have lived since returning to Columbia in 1994.
Stephen and Dorothy Roberts met at basic training at Fort Jackson in 1982, and began dating after both were shipped to Fort Hood, Texas, for their first assignment.
Stephen, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, retired in 2005 after nearly 23 years in the Army. Dorothy Roberts, who grew up in Georgetown, also put in 20 years and still works at Fort Jackson in a supervisory role.
Despite his military background, Roberts knew little about The Citadel when Higgins and his staff began recruiting him his senior year at Spring Valley. Ex-Vikings coach Jimmy Noonan, who played for the Bulldogs, and one of Roberts' former Spring Valley teammates at The Citadel told him about life as a cadet.
They might have glossed over some of the details.
"They can only tell you so much until you actually experience it," Roberts said.
Roberts' small stature and his limited role in Spring Valley's option offense his senior year kept the state's big schools away. Roberts attended camps at USC and Clemson, where his older brother graduated, but received no follow-up calls or letters.
"He was a little, track guy - a little bit skinny," Stephen Roberts said.
Higgins' interest was piqued when Roberts won MVP honors at the North-South All-Star Game. A Citadel assistant who attended the North-South practices told Higgins no defensive backs could jam Roberts at the line of scrimmage.
Roberts picked the Bulldogs over Coastal Carolina and a couple of small, out-of-state schools. He was used to discipline, having grown up with strict rules at home - his parents pulled Roberts off the track team when his grades slipped his junior year.
But 11 p.m. and midnight curfews did not prepare him for "hell week," where first-year knobs lose their hair, and many, their will after seven days of intense training.
"I didn't want to do it. I never really wanted to be in the military. That wasn't my thing," Roberts said. "I just wanted to play football."
He got his chance to do that immediately. After catching 35 passes for 557 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman, Roberts was confident enough to share his NFL dreams with Higgins.
"I was feeling pretty good about myself, and I was thinking I was going to be able to dominate at (that) level," he said.
Higgins, a Detroit Lions' assistant coach for four years before arriving at The Citadel in 2005, put a plan together for Roberts. He advised him to finish his degree requirements a semester early so he could prepare for the draft, and gave him a video of Roy Williams and Detroit's other receivers that he wanted Roberts to study.
Roberts did the rest, combining his athleticism with a willingness to work to become one of the most explosive FCS players the past three years.
"He was different here. He was a hard, hard worker. Football was awfully important to him," Higgins said. "When other guys were sleeping in on a Saturday, he'd be out on the JUGS machine catching footballs."
Roberts started as a sophomore and was a first-team, FCS All-American as a junior in 2008, when he caught 95 passes and led the Southern Conference in every major receiving category, as well as punt returns and all-purpose yards.
Roberts also had a chance to show Clemson what it missed out on. He caught nine passes for 153 yards in the Bulldogs' 45-17 loss at Death Valley, and forced the Tigers to make a halftime adjustment and roll coverage toward his side of the field.
Roberts saw more double teams this past season.
"My senior year, they definitely made sure I wasn't going to get the ball," said Roberts, whose receiving numbers were down from his All-American season.
Even so, Roberts was invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine. After impressing scouts with his route-running at the Senior Bowl, Roberts answered any doubts about his speed by zipping through the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, which tied for the seventh-fastest time among receivers.
Higgins said his NFL contacts liked Roberts' versatility.
"They're looking for a punt returner and a guy that can be that second or third wide receiver," Higgins said. "I think he's tailor-made for that slot position - get in and out of breaks and get over the middle."
After returning home from Charleston in January, Roberts bought a Wilson official NFL football at a local sporting goods store. He catches passes from his father at Spring Valley or at Fort Jackson, where Roberts works out when he's in Columbia.
He will graduate next month with a 3.3 grade point average in accounting. After commencement, Roberts will move on from military life.
But new challenges await.
"They still say I'm too short. I'm not fast enough," he said. "So it's definitely extra motivation and something to prove to people who still don't believe."
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