BLACKSBURG — After two season-ending injuries that have robbed him of playing time during promising stretches in his college football career, Virginia Tech wide receiver Dyrell Roberts has had to develop the determination needed to go through rehabilitation and the patience to wait his turn.
He doesn't complain about what might've been had he been fortunate enough to remain injury-free, but even his teammates have witnessed his frustration at times. Roberts' remedy for those moments of dissatisfaction has been simple — grit his teeth and get back to work.
"He has his days when he doesn't want to be there, just like anybody would when they're sore and everything," Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said. "He's still out there every day. When we get to the practice field, you don't hear him complaining about it. He's out there going. You've got to respect a guy like that."
On Saturday, Roberts will take the field at Lane Stadium for the final time when Tech hosts Virginia (4-7 overall, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) looking to extend a winning streak against the Cavaliers to nine games, which would be the longest consecutive successful stretch of games for either team in the 117-year history of the rivalry. A win also would make Tech bowl-eligible for a 20th consecutive season.
It'll be the conclusion of Roberts' transition from star running back at Smithfield High, where he ran for 2,236 yards and scored 38 touchdowns in 10 games as a senior on his way to earning Bay Rivers District and Region I offensive player of the year honors, to college receiver.
Not only did Roberts have to learn a position he never played in high school once he got to Tech (5-6, 3-4), it just so happens his college career happened to overlap with the careers of the two best pass-catchers in Tech history — Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale.
"I feel like I've had some success at receiver, but at the end of the day, you want to be the best you can be," said Roberts, who has 92 catches for 1,314 yards and six touchdowns in his career. "I feel like at times, I'm on. Then, at times, I feel like I may make mistakes that I get on myself (about). … I can say I've got kind of a grasp on the receiver position. I know what I'm doing now. I'm not just out there running around."
Despite not being able to claim the marquee receiver spot in Tech's offense, he made his mark on the program, but even some of his best runs of success were interrupted by time-consuming injuries.
As a sophomore in 2009, he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of Tech's season-opening loss to Alabama. He came back two weeks later and caught the game-winning 11-yard touchdown pass from Hampton High graduate Tyrod Taylor with 21 seconds left in Tech's dramatic 16-15 win against Nebraska.
Roberts finished the '09 season fourth in the nation in average yards (31.9) per kickoff return, and came into the 2010 season with a ton of promise. He just couldn't move ahead of Boykin and Coale on the depth chart, and the injuries started to plague Roberts.
Two weeks after recording career highs in both receptions (six) and receiving yards (134) in a win against Wake Forest during the '10 season, he suffered a deep thigh bruise on a kickoff return against Georgia Tech. The thigh bruise developed into compartment syndrome, which required emergency surgery to relieve dangerous pressure in his thigh. He missed the last five games of the season.
After rehabbing from that surgery, he went on to sustain a broken arm last season on the opening kickoff of the third game of the season against Arkansas State. He sat out for the season, which would've been his senior season, but a medical hardship waiver allowed him to come back this season.
"He gets a pretty serious injury, and then you get another serious injury the next year," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "I think you do wonder, 'What if those things hadn't occurred?'"
Roberts, who despite not returning a kickoff this season is still Tech's career leader in kickoff return yards with 1,577, has asked himself the same question. He's a full-time starter this season for the first time in his career.
Though he's having his best season receiving with a single-season career-high 29 catches (third on the team) for 349 yards and a touchdown, he feels he had more in him this season. He's looking to finish his career on an upswing.
"Coming back from the (broken arm), I'd say it's not gone the way I wanted it to go," Roberts said. "We dropped a couple of close games, and lost some games we feel like we shouldn't have lost. … You can't really get down on yourself. It's still been a fun ride and a fun journey.
"You don't want to lose this game. We've had this (Commonwealth) Cup in our possession for a while now. It's important to keep it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times