BRANDYWINE HUNDRED – For years, it was thought that high school football players from Delaware were often overlooked by recruiters from major colleges.
In the Internet age, it’s easy for college coaches to see highlight films of players from all over the country. And when they watched Avery Roberts’ highlights from last season, they liked what they saw.
So now, Concord’s junior linebacker is on the national recruiting radar.
“He had a great year last year, and I just thought we needed to start getting his stuff out now,” Raiders coach Greg Mitchell said. “I started getting his film out, and it just kind of took on a life of its own.
“We got one or two interested, and then it gets out on Twitter and they can see his Hudl highlights. Then we got a lot of contact from a lot of people.”
Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Clemson, Oregon, Syracuse, Miami, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Stanford, Temple and Rutgers are among the schools that have shown interest. In other words, most of the Top 25.
So when the state’s high school football teams opened workouts on Saturday, Roberts may have been the most excited player on any field in Delaware. He was leading the Raiders through every linebacker drill. His big picture is getting pretty big.
“It’s just made me hungrier,” Roberts said. “It makes me want to prepare better, get better. I might be able to do some things easily now, but the next level isn’t going to be easy. So I’m working for the future.”
His past has been filled with constant improvement. Two years ago, Roberts started for the Raiders as a freshman.
“He made a lot of plays on ability,” Mitchell said. “He was a little tentative at first, but by the end of the season he was making plays. Toward the end of the season against Newark, he had 18 or 19 tackles.
“The big difference between now and his freshman year, he has learned to make plays at the line of scrimmage and behind. Before, he made a lot of plays 5 yards down the field. Now, he’s a downhill player.”
The chiseled, 6-foot-1, 215-pounder has turned into a wrecking ball.
“He’s explosive,” Mitchell said. “He’s physical, downhill, with good speed. For us, he’s a game changer. He’s the kind of kid who can make plays all over the field.”
Opposing coaches will try to keep him from changing the game, beginning Sept. 11 when the Raiders open the season at Caravel. But it won’t be easy. Not with Roberts right in the middle, right behind his defensive line, constantly looking to strike.
“I like hitting,” he said. “I’ve been playing linebacker my whole life. It’s my favorite position, the one thing I’ve always liked to do.”
Roberts also plays fullback, and with leading rushers Brycen Alleyne and Brian Dennis graduating from last year’s 7-4 team, Mitchell may give him some more carries. But he spent the summer working on his footwork, speed, strength and getting off of blocks — all with the goal of punishing the other team’s runners.
“I like having the offensive player feel you, making sure they don’t want to run your way anymore,” Roberts said. “It’s happened plenty of times, where they don’t want to go your way. They see you coming, they juke the other way.”
Roberts comes from a football family. His older brother, Grant, is a 6-foot, 280-pound defensive tackle at the University of Delaware who made 17 tackles while playing in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season. His younger brother, Graham, is a 5-11, 210-pound sophomore at Concord who should see time at outside linebacker and running back this year.
So it’s no surprise that Avery gave up basketball after the eighth grade to put all of his energy into football.
“As soon as the season is over, I have about a week off,” he said. “Then I go right back to lifting and conditioning. This is my sport. This is what I do.”
He does it well, and everyone has noticed. So Roberts may be the state’s most scrutinized player this fall.
“It’s heady stuff,” Mitchell said. “We’ve heard from Alabama, Ohio State, Stanford, Oregon, some big schools ask about him. He’s become a national recruit. But I’m not worried about him getting heady. He’s not that kind of kid.
“He’s going to play hard. He knows it’s not his senior year. It’s his junior year, he’s got a long way to go, and a lot can go wrong if you let it. I told him, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing, and it’s all going to work out. It’s going to be good.’”
Mitchell said Roberts has handled the recruiting process well so far.
“I tell him, ‘You don’t have to be loud. But you better be the hardest-working kid. You better be on time,’” the coach said. “Because all of these freshmen are looking at him. When he goes to games, he’s going to have a lot of eyes on him.”
College coaches can talk with Mitchell now, and they do. But they can’t contact Roberts until Sept. 1.
“It’s going to be a lot,” the linebacker said. “I’ll be able to handle it, though.”
He has already visited Temple, Rutgers, Nebraska and Penn State (twice), and plans to schedule more visits through the fall. He hasn’t narrowed his list or set a timetable for making a college decision, but plans to rely on his parents and coaches for guidance.
“I’m going to stay humble, keep my head on straight and listen to the people around me,” Roberts said. “They know what they’re talking about.”
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ