MCT REGIONAL NEWS
By Mike Casazza
Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.
April 04--MORGANTOWN -- Even when WVU's wide receivers and special teams coach Daron Roberts had a master's degree and was working to finish coursework at Harvard Law School, he would look past a career in corporate law and lock his gaze on a retirement plan.
"I was going to coach football at Mount Pleasant High School," said Roberts, the latest and final addition to West Virginia football's coaching staff.
Roberts played his prep football in that small town in northeast Texas that doesn't sell alcohol, but did have the state's first Wal-Mart. The dream was in his head and it would take a step forward from the recesses of his mind every time he returned from Harvard to visit his parents.
The flight from Boston would take him only to Dallas, and he had to drive another two hours home.
Every time, though, he'd stop along the way and visit his old defensive coordinator. And every time they'd watch the tapes from when Roberts rolled with the Tigers.
"Eventually I told myself, 'You're going to your defensive coordinator's house before you go home to see your mom and dad,'" he said. "And I love my mom and dad."
He loved football, too. He thought he left it behind when he went to Texas for his undergraduate degree and then to Harvard, but it wouldn't leave him.
"I never lost sight of the fact that the best four years of my life were spent playing high school football," he said.
In the summer of 2006, just before he began his third and final year of law school, a friend suggested they drive to Columbia, S.C., for South Carolina's football camp.
"It changed my life," he said.
Roberts went to camps at LSU and then Boston College later that summer. He was hooked.
A year later, he had his law degree and was preparing to take the bar exam in Texas, but veered sharply off course and went to the Kansas City Chiefs training camp.
Two years later, he was an assistant coach with the Detroit Lions.
Now, he's a FBS program's assistant making $200,000 annually to coach WVU wide receivers and punt and kickoff return teams.
"Had my buddy not called me to work that camp in South Carolina, I might be working at a firm in New York," Roberts said. "I'm fortunate enough he did call me and that I had a couple sick days I could use at my law firm so we could drive to Columbia. That experience set me on this path."
THAT EXPERIENCE was rooted in a little bit of fraud. Those college camps he worked are somewhat exclusive. They take coaches from all sorts of colleges and high schools, but they don't generally take aides to senators and former presidential candidates or assistants to lieutenant governors who have no coaching experience.
In fact, the registration forms anyone can find online attempt to designate who's who. Roberts found a way around that.
"I listed the school I went to in Texas. What I didn't say was the school I coached," he said. "It said 'Name' and 'Affiliation.' I kind of interpreted that loosely. I'm a Mount Pleasant alumnus. Maybe they assumed I coached there."
The secret would get out after a while and it was there where Roberts was first projected to be a little bit crazy.
"I'd get in and I wouldn't say anything," Roberts said. "I'd just work for three or four days. The guys would say after you're sitting around and talking a little bit, 'You're in law school? What? Most people are trying to get out of camps and you're trying to sneak in?'
"But working those three camps reaffirmed for me that this is what I should be doing."
HIS PLAN to abandon a formidable education to pursue a fantasy was not uniformly popular. Roberts told people he was stepping away from law and all the accomplishments and connections he'd secured in mergers and acquisitions to enter the entirely unknown world of the NFL as an unpaid volunteer.
Some reactions were predictable.
"I got a lot of insanity e-mails," he said. "My grandmother sent me one."
He also had a lot of support through it all. Roberts was a responsible and surely sane person. Those around him knew he'd thought about his decision and was serious about making it work. More people talked him into it than tried to talk him out of it.
His parents offered this advice: "The best time to go broke is when you have no money."
His law school dean ruled in his favor: "It's just like going to Harvard. If you have an opportunity to be in the NFL, you have to jump on it. Legal issues are not going anywhere. People are still going to have problems. You can always practice. You won't always have a shot to go to the NFL."
The greatest assist came before all of that. Roberts was in a sports law class in his second year of law school. In 2005 he wanted to write a paper on the relationship between legal training and coaching. His professor happened to be "infatuated" with then-Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach, who has a law degree from Pepperdine.
He also happened to be one of the few big-time coaches who never played college football.
The professor granted Roberts a one-month sabbatical and it was there where Roberts first met WVU's offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who reached out and brought Roberts to campus last week.
"He and I stayed in contact when I got into coaching," Roberts said. "I saw him at the national championship game and congratulated him on the opportunity to come here. He said he'd keep me in mind when there was an opening."
Roberts spent the first part of his coaching career working with special teams and the Mountaineers were in need of not just a receivers coach when Lonnie Galloway left for Wake Forest last month, but someone to coach the punt and kickoff return teams after Dave McMichael was not retained by Holgorsen.