It’s OK, the ball is in good hands


So far this season the team leader in receptions is not a wide receiver, but rather a tight end.

Fifth-year Senior Raymond Roberts, who will graduate in December, has been Scott Crabtree’s go-to guy and it has resulted in some impressive numbers. He has 23 receptions for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Coming into this season he had 32 catches for 367 yards and four TDs over three years.

“Teams really don’t respect the tight end spot and they leave me open a lot,” said Roberts (6-2, 251 pounds). “Scott does a good job of finding me and getting me the ball.”

Roberts’ role goes beyond being a tight end. He was elected one of the four captains this season. This should come as no surprise considering he was a team captain when he played high school football. For Roberts the election meant having to increase his workload and be more voiceful on the field.

“You know when you’re voted captain by your peers it really means something and it means they kind of look up to you,” Roberts said. “When you take that leadership role you have to accept it and do everything that is asked of you,” he commented. “I was just fortunate at both places (college and high school) to have a team that was so together. When everyone likes each other and gets along, being a captain is very easy.”

Roberts also has more responsibilities as a player aside from being a captain. He will line up as a wide receiver or a wing back and he goes in motion a lot, which is more than what a normal tight end usually does.

“Our offense is pretty much free with the tight end spot. I can line up anywhere on the field and be a threat, I suppose,” Roberts said.

Roberts has been another walk-on success story for NIU. He came in and redshirted the 1989 season. He wanted to try out for the team because of his love of sports. His walk-on status allowed him to try out different positions. He started out as a quarterback for a few plays. He was then moved to outside linebacker and eventually inside linebacker before he settled into the tight end spot.

“When you’re a walk-on you play anything that will get you out on the field and get you that scholarship, and that was my goal,” Roberts said.

Roberts did reach his goal of getting a scholarship when coach Charlie Sadler replaced Jerry Pettibone in 1991.

There’s one other personal goal that Roberts has had for each season and that’s to get better.

Roberts has molded himself after NFL tight end Keith Jackson. He looks at him as a great player and sees that Jackson is an excellent person off the field.

There are certain raw materials anyone needs to become a good tight end. Those would include speed, size and strength. But Roberts also states it takes good coaching. He says it has been his coaches that have really helped him become as good as he is. But while he has the raw materials and the talent, there is always room for improvement.

“I am amazed at how far I’ve come from day one at tight end,” Roberts said. “I look around and see other tight ends around the country and I see so much that I can do to better myself.”

He tries to improve himself in all areas of his game including blocking, running routes, catching and reading defenses.

While Roberts credits his coaches for helping him to become a good player, they in turn have complimented him pretty well, especially tight ends coach Tom Lewinski.

“He’s a good player with a lot of ability, and he’s smart,” said Lewinski. “He understands what is going on and he is always in the right place.”

While he hears a lot of talk about the NFL, it’s not something he’s really concentrating on. For now the talented tight end just wants to get the most of his college career, finish out the season, find a job and, as Roberts said, “If the NFL happens it will.”