The sophomore from Champion High has developed into a top offensive guard.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Nick Roberts knew early in his high school career that Youngstown State University was the school he wanted to attend and play football.
Now that he's here, the Penguins are the ones who are happy that he made that choice.
The 6-0, 312-pound sophomore offensive guard is one of the reasons that the Penguins are off to a 3-0 start this season and 1-0 in the Gateway Football Conference. They are also ranked No. 2 in the latest Division I-AA Sports Network national poll.
Roberts came to the Penguins in 1999 right out of Champion High School where he was a two-time All-Trumbull Athletic Conference selection and honorable mention All-Ohio lineman.
Red-shirt: He was a red-shirt his freshman year and spent a lot of time in the YSU weight room. He holds the school record for incline press by an offensive lineman, lifting 365 pounds.
His off-season work helped move him into the Penguins rotation on the offensive line last season, where he started one game at the center position against Hofstra and earned offensive lineman of the game honors.
This year, Roberts has been a regular starter on the line at guard as the offensive line has become a valuable asset to the team's success.
"Youngstown State was just a perfect fit for me," Roberts said. "I'm from the area and I grew up watching the Penguins compete for national championships. It's just a great place to be and to play football.
"We have a great off-season program here at Youngstown and coming in here from high school I needed a lot of work," he said. "Now that hard work is starting to pay off for me."
Teammates: Roberts said that being able to work alongside such standouts as Pat Crummey and Lavelle Hawkes also has been very helpful for his career.
"Just being around these guys is a great experience for me, I've been able to learn so much from them," he said.
"We have a lot of depth on the line this year and I feel that the key is that we communicate so well among one another and that's what has made us so successful," he said.
Roberts also says that it is a tremendous help to the line to have such great backs behind them like quarterback Jeff Ryan and P.J. Mays.
"You don't always know where a great back like Jeff or P.J. is going to end up on a play, but because they are so great you just know that if you continue to do your job, they are going to find that block or that hole and make a good gain," he said.
Wins award: Roberts, who is a native of Newton Falls, was named the Penguins' offensive lineman of the week for his efforts against Western Illinois last Saturday.
It was a game that the Penguins won 41-7 and the offense contributed with 262 total yards, 187 of those coming on the ground.
This week, the Penguins take to the road for the first time this season when they take on the University of Northern Iowa in the UNIDome in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
"I'm excited about the chance to play in the dome. The last time we were there was by freshman year and I was being red-shirted and didn't get a chance to play," he said.
"Northern Iowa is a good football team and we're going to have to be at our best to beat them up there," he said.
YSU head coach Jon Heacock also had high praise for Roberts.
"Nobody has worked harder than Nick has," Heacock said. "He's worked very hard in the weight room and has progressed to the point that he's one of our most consistent linemen."
Kickoff for the Northern Iowa contest will be at 5:05 p.m. and the contest will be broadcast live over Y-103 (102.9 FM).