Read the situation and react accordingly. The approach hasn’t let Avery Roberts down yet.
A nine-minute highlight video of his senior football season at Wilmington (Del.) Concord High School brings this mantra to life. Roberts is the 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker bursting through gaps to stuff runs from multiple angles. He’s identifying pass plays and either closing on quarterbacks in an instant or sticking to would-be receivers.
Roberts’ favorite play included more than one split-second decision. Blitzing on the snap of a read-option attempt, he quickly sheds a block and recognizes the quarterback as the runner. Roberts pops him, but there’s no tackle. Instead, he rips the ball away while making a 360-degree counterclockwise spin and runs the final eight yards to the end zone.
“He kind of tried to stiff-arm me with the wrong arm,” Roberts said. “The ball was loose, so I just grabbed it and scored.”
Roberts made his assessment of Nebraska in April, committing to NU linebackers coach Trent Bray and the Huskers over nearly 30 other schools, including finalist Penn State. Since then, there’s been no second-guessing and certainly no drama from the soft-spoken 19-year-old who rarely does interviews and prefers to keep a low profile.
The consensus four-star prospect — considered a top-13 linebacker nationally by all four recruiting services — arrives in Lincoln on Friday. Aiming to become the first Husker ever to take the field from the state of Delaware, he will participate in spring workouts and take classes when the new semester begins Monday.
It was hardly on a whim that Roberts chose to enroll early at Nebraska. He took an extra English and math class online in the fall to meet graduation requirements at Concord. The motivation: to increase his odds of early playing time for a Big Red squad losing three scholarship linebackers and in need of a hard-hitting, versatile stopgap.
“I’m excited to get the chance to prove myself over again — that’s one thing I probably miss the most,” Roberts said. “Everyone says, ‘You’re the best on the field.’ The fact is now I might not be the best on the field and have to work.
“My speed, I get away with a lot (in high school) because you can gamble a little more when you’re faster. I play to be the best and will be working with the best.”
The football results came relatively easily for the prep standout as a senior while amassing 135 tackles (including 18 for loss and eight sacks), four forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns. Stronger than ever — he can power clean as much as 315 pounds — Roberts bulldozed opponents at every turn. He also regularly blocked on offense for his brother, Grahm Roberts, a 2018 running back who holds a Nebraska offer as well.
Concord coach Greg Mitchell said Avery Roberts doesn’t play music before games or flaunt his exploits. He recalled one day last fall when his star linebacker played a 1 p.m. road game and the Raiders lost. Instead of sulking, Roberts honored a previous promise to drive another 90 miles with a few teammates to participate in a flag football contest with Special Olympics players at 7.
“They didn’t say, ‘Well, we lost the (high school) game so I don’t feel like playing now,’ ” Mitchell said. “They just went down there and made those kids feel special and basically put in a 12-hour day.”
Yet even before trading in his 302 area code, Roberts has kept tabs on his new 402 home. He last visited Nebraska’s campus Sept. 3 for the Fresno State game, which only reinforced his decision. He knows two other linebackers are committed so far in Willie Hampton and Andrew Ward. He’s even done some recruiting himself.
“I’ve got a couple guys I think we’re going to get, but I don’t want to put their names out there,” he said.
Roberts watched the Music City Bowl from his home, seeing a shorthanded Nebraska squad struggle to make stops in a 38-24 loss. At one point, Mitchell texted his player, “Well, looks like they need you out there on defense.”
“Yeah,” Roberts texted back in typically concise fashion.
The adventure begins now for the linebacker, who is embracing the chance to build a new reputation at the next level of football.
“Delaware is a small state, and everybody knew who he was,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people came to watch him, and that’s good and bad. He didn’t have to work to be the best player here — that’s the truth of the matter. He was the best player if he hadn’t lifted a weight. I think he realizes it’s not going to come as easy to him as it did in high school, and that’ll be good for him.”