Roberts hits the ground running and well armed
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - That first trip Daron Roberts made on the road in May to represent and recruit for West Virginia football was the first trip Roberts had made in that capacity in his entire life.
When the receivers coach was done some weeks later, he'd pulled in promises from three well-liked high school seniors to play for the Mountaineers.
Landing a four-star receiver, a three-star running back, a three-star cornerback and getting his hooks into who knows how many others in Dallas, East Texas, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia would be five-star work on a WVU staff still getting acclimated to its surroundings.
That it came from Roberts, an almost unrecruited player when he was in high school, was earth shaking. This was some beginning from Roberts, but in truth it was the end to a process he'd started long before.
For those who wondered how, or if, Roberts would work with his background bereft of experience skeptics deemed necessary for his position, this was the first sign he could apply his academics to athletics.
Roberts can't comment on the players who committed to WVU, but Baltimore receiver Deontay McManus, Washington, D.C., running back Albert Reid and Baltimore cornerback Da'Quan Davis all committed late in June and said Roberts recruited them.
"I did as much research as I could on kids in my area that I thought were going to be good players and then I set up a schedule to visit seven or eight schools a day," Roberts said. "The goal was two-fold.
"One, I really wanted to start building relationships with high school coaches and counselors and, two, I wanted to be able to see the kids I thought would be an asset to West Virginia. I wanted to be able to watch them practice and get a look at those kids. It was a little hectic, but it worked out."
It did because he used what was familiar to help him with what was foreign. Roberts found recruiting wasn't much different than running for student body president or writing a paper or studying law or putting together a special teams scouting report.
Preparation is the key and Roberts was preparing to recruit key areas for WVU.
"My approach has always been that you can't have too much information," he said. "I looked at all the rankings online, but what was more valuable to me was newspaper articles."
Roberts scanned the online archives of the newspapers in his recruiting areas. He started with a broad base and narrowed it down, reading features and game summaries and keeping track of teams and names.
"Once you start to see a name that keeps popping up, you say, 'OK, that's a kid I need to look out for,'" Roberts said.
He took those names and then did more research on the player. He kept reading and started calling the schools to get videotape. He took all of his information, filtered it through the system in place at WVU and then figured out whom the Mountaineers would recruit.
"We limited the number of targets," he said. "Instead of casting a wide net, we isolated a small number of young men who we thought would really contribute to us. Once we had that, we put together a full-out assault on them."
Before he could do that, he had to come up with his own ammunition.
Roberts, 32, only came to WVU in April and this is his first college job. College football is an entirely different business than professional football, where Roberts had spent the previous four years. On top of that, WVU offers a different experience and environment than many other schools it competes against in the Big East Conference, region and country.
Roberts knew that because he'd been told it so many times in his whirlwind introduction to the campus, the town and the state. He was hired just a few days before the start of spring practice and had to hustle to get caught up and then get ahead.
Once he had time to exhale, he took in everything he could about his new home because he knew he needed to know it if he was going to sell it.
"I put together a notebook of about eight pages that outlined what West Virginia University offers that is not football-related," Roberts said. "I got graduation rates across the athletic department, I got football graduation rates, the average salary of a West Virginia graduate. Then I went to the football side and the revenue that's generated, the average attendance history.
"In the end, I'd put together a personal package I could show them so they understood what I was selling and I took that to the kids who we think can contribute."
Roberts, who on top of his NFL experience has academic credentials to flaunt with an undergraduate degree from Texas and a master's and law degree from Harvard, assured parents their sons would get a valuable education at WVU. If the academics didn't open doors, the associations could.
"I've been in Morgantown three months and I've visited Charleston and Parkersburg and alumni events in other places and what I saw was there's such a network of alumni who care about the university and care about the kids who graduate from the university," Roberts said. "That's something I explained every time. I wanted the parents to know their kids were going to be graduating into a family and that family would try to take care of them."
Once Roberts planted that seed, he poured it on with football promises. He told his recruits WVU's membership in the Big East would get them on television and through the years they'd play games near home against TCU or Maryland. And Roberts vowed the Mountaineers were going to compete for national championships.
By the end of his pitch, Roberts had them ready to believe it, but only because he'd become convinced first.
"What I found is WVU is not a hard product to sell," he said. "From all the visits with all the coaches and players, I saw there is a lot of excitement across the country and a lot of excitement for what's going to happen the next four or five years and what West Virginia will look like. A lot of people want to be a part of what we're putting together in Morgantown."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142.