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Monday, May 21, 2018

Football

From defensive leader to Super Bowl champion and back again


Elandon Roberts went from never starting a football game to Super Bowl champion in just two years. He is now the starter for one of the most successful NFL franchises ever. | Courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman

Two hundred and fifty-three players are picked every year during the NFL Draft, and only about 60 are ever guaranteed a spot on an NFL roster when their name is called.

Nothing was guaranteed for UH class of 2016 linebacker Elandon Roberts when he was selected by the New England Patriots with the 214th pick in the sixth round. But in his rookie year Roberts took the challenge by the horns, becoming a starter by year’s end and winning a Super Bowl in the same city he played college football.

Now in year two, Roberts is headed back to the Super Bowl with a chance to win his second ring in as many seasons as a pro.

“When I initially got to Houston and met Elandon, the first thing that stood out to me was his leadership skills and his want,” said former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. “He thrives in certain situations and is very coachable. I am proud of his success at the next level and know he will continue to be that type of player for the rest of his career.”

Roberts’ first start for the Patriots came in week six against the Cincinnati Bengals. He recorded six total tackles that day.

But his real opportunity to make an impact came after the Patriots traded All-Pro linebacker Jamie Collins for a draft pick on Oct. 31, 2016. Roberts was able to move right into his inside linebacker spot and fill the void left by Collins. He started every game for the Patriots from there on out.

Roberts helped carry the Patriots all the way to the 2017 Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons, which was played at NRG Stadium. He recorded two solo tackles as the Patriots came back from being down 28-3 to win 34-28 in overtime. This was the largest comeback and first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

In his second year, Roberts has only flourished under defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. He had 22 more tackles than he did the year before, 67 on the season, and had the first two sacks of his NFL career against the Miami Dolphins in week 12.

In the postseason, Roberts was second on the team with seven tackles in their AFC Championship Game win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Patriots’ late defensive surge helped stifle the Jacksonville offense and send the Patriots to their second straight Super Bowl.

Roberts now has a chance to win a second Super Bowl ring, just four years removed from never starting a college football game.

A career year

Roberts transferred to Houston in 2013 from Morgan State University, an FCS school in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. But while he saw playing time, he never earned a start until 2015 when then defensive coordinator Todd Orlando came to town.

In his senior year with the Cougars, Roberts led the nation with 88 solo tackles as the Cougars stayed undefeated through the first 10 games. Roberts was the leader of a suffocating linebacker corps that held opponents to a little over 100 rushing yards a game.

The team’s one loss came against the UConn Huskies, when Roberts was disqualified six minutes into the game for a targeting penalty.

He was one of the driving forces between the team’s American Athletic Conference championship and 38-24 Peach Bowl victory against the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles. Roberts was named first team all-conference for his dominant year.

That year Roberts led the conference with 142 tackles and owned a crucial interception that allowed a come-from-behind victory against the Memphis Tigers. His 2015 performance earned Roberts an invite to the NFLPA Bowl, giving him a chance to be viewed up close by the NFL scouts and ultimately drafted by the Patriots.

“When he got drafted by the New England Patriots, I knew that it would be a great fit for him because of the organization and culture that they have established there,” Orlando said. “Elandon always figures things out when he or his coaches find a deficiency and he’s very coachable. As a player, he just battles.”

Going pro

Regardless of what the result may be this time, Roberts has become a figurehead for Houston players with dreams of joining the highest level of the sport. In one year, his entire career changed.

Former teammate Tyus Bowser has already followed in his footsteps, going from unknown draft prospect to second round pick by the Baltimore Ravens. Sports writers are already predicting senior D’Juan Hines will be the next Cougar linebacker to go to the NFL. Any number could follow.

Even though Roberts may never have the flash of a Case Keenum, he is arguably the hardest worker to ever come out of Houston. Given his current status in the NFL, he might easily become the most successful.

The Patriots organization were contacted in order to speak with Roberts, unfortunately there was no time given other media commitments.

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