FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts is the youngest player on the team’s roster. He doesn’t turn 23 until April 22, but speaking with him throughout the year, maturity stands out.
Roberts names his father, Eli, as one of his biggest role models.
"He was in the army, so we were always going through adversity with him having to leave and whatnot,” Roberts said this week in the days leading up to Saturday's home game against the New York Jets (CBS, 1 p.m. ET). “He had to leave for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just seeing how he approached it and came back home and did what he had to do ... for me, that translates to the game in the sense that everything might not always be like you want it to be, but it’s how you come out of it.”
Roberts beat the odds to make the Patriots’ initial 53-man roster after the team selected him with one of its three picks in the sixth round (214th overall). He has played in 11 games, with four starts, and has been credited with 27 tackles, as his strong downhill play in the running game has been easy to see.
A native of Port Arthur, Texas, he might be considered undersized for the linebacker position, but that hasn’t stopped him from making a positive impact on the team. Roberts shares his “football journey” as part of a weekly feature on ESPN.com’s Patriots blog:
When he first started playing football: “Flag football -- 4 years old. I always wanted to play. I used to watch Emmitt Smith run the ball, and I used to always want to tackle him. I caught on at a young age. My cousins had played, which made me want to play more.”
First position: “Nose guard for two years. Ever since then, I’ve been playing linebacker.”
Favorite players growing up: “I always liked Ray Lewis at the ‘backer. I really liked all the linebackers, but the main two were always Ray and Patrick Willis.”
Top memories at Port Arthur High School: “It had to be senior year; we went deep in the playoffs, five rounds deep. I was the captain of that team. That was a great year, and I felt like we helped bring our town back together. It had been a big football and basketball city, but once they merged the high schools [in 2002] it fell off a bit. But that year, you could see the community come back together.”
Enrolling at Morgan State: “Going into college, it was real rocky. A lot of scouts got on me late. We had a lot of big-time players, 11 went D-I. There were a lot [of scouts] coming in and out, but it was like they were kind of overlooking [things] and coming in for the [players] who were really up there. So I went to Morgan, played one semester there, and it was a situation where everything happens for a reason. I did some things there that a player had never done there, on a 2-8 team. That led me to transfer out to [Houston].”
Biggest lessons at Morgan State: “It taught me that even though you may not start where you want to be, at the end of the day, you can still get where you want to go. A lot of people talk about how there is light at the end of the tunnel, but in a tunnel, it’s dark and all you’re doing is knocking rocks off little by little. The light comes, but it’s going to take a while. You’ll get there eventually, but especially in football, you have to keep hitting at that wall.”
Transferring to University of Houston: “That senior year we had, with that group of guys, we were able to win the conference and go to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and beat a big opponent in Florida State; it gave a lot of opportunity for a lot of guys to show what they had. That class, we had a lot of guys went into the NFL as free agents and a lot of guys made the team. It just shows you from that year what type of guys we had on that team. It was a brotherhood, and we all still look out for each other. It was the type of year you look back on and say, ‘Can I do that again?’ If I was a junior, I would have come back.”
Entering the 2016 NFL draft: “I knew I had a lot of people to prove wrong. Not getting into the Senior Bowl, not getting into the combine was kind of frustrating. Like I said, that tunnel is dark and you just have to keep knocking down that wall. I had a good pro day, and not being the kind of guy who got in trouble, I didn’t have that to worry about. It was rocky times, but once it was over, I was excited about it. It’s a true blessing. It didn’t matter to me what round I went, I was just looking for the opportunity. I knew if I got the opportunity, I’d be able to show.”
Life as a Patriot: “It’s what I thought it would be, but you do see football is more of a business -- handle your business. That’s the type of approach we take in New England, and that leads to a lot of success. It’s small things that get you beat. I’ve definitely grown as a person. And I still have a long way to go.”
What he loves about football: “Everything. I love contact. With football now, it gives me a chance with all those little kids who might have people doubting them to show them about keeping their head up, and to keep grinding. You can get it. It doesn’t matter what people say, it matters what you do about it. I have a lot of fun doing it, but I have even more fun when I know there’s people out there who might be looking up to [me] and I can show them ‘if you follow this path, you can live your dream also.’”
Summing up his football journey: “Adversity can become a treasure. It’s nonstop. Adversity is always going to hit, and it comes out of the blue. It’s how you take it. It can be your downfall. Or you can turn it into a treasure.”