Roberts Embracing Role Of The Unknown

Ohio State linebacker commit Luke Roberts isn't highly ranked by recruiting services, but the Lancaster, Ohio, native plans on proving he was worth the scholarship. Engaging in strongman lifts since the age of 15, Roberts knows he's prepared to transition to college football.

Oftentimes Matt Roberts will peer over to a fellow spectator at Lancaster (Ohio) High School football games and make eye contact. Those brief moments typically come after Matt's son – Ohio State verbal commit Luke Roberts – makes a play on the field worth acknowledging.

"I regularly turn to him in the stands and just look at him and say, ‘That's you, man, that's your input on Luke's life,' " said Matt, referring to his son's relationship with competitive strongman and Lancaster local Steve Slater.

Slater, who has helped Luke with an unusual type of weight training since the linebacker's freshman year at Lancaster, doesn't quite have a grasp on how big his impact really was.

Perhaps he was one of the main reasons Luke was noticed by Ohio State, one of the most prestigious college football programs in the country, and offered a scholarship. All the while, most other schools didn't have Luke on their radar.

"Luke realizes that he's been tabbed as an under-the-radar recruit," Matt said. "From time to time there will be remarks on blogs or Internet sites where people question or doubt whether or not he's the best recruit out there, that he is not a national recruit – as if your zip code matters."

It's likely Roberts would have garnered further attention had schools known the types of workouts he's been enduring with Slater since the raw age of 15.

Both Luke and Slater point out that doing aggressive training that included lifting 350-pound round atlas stones, truck pulls, tire flipping and log lifting applies quite well to tackling ball carriers on the football field.

Matt first reached out to Slater just to give Luke advice on how to go about working out when he first was embarking on football. Little did Matt know that Slater would take his son under his wing.

"We do some gym training with barbells and things like that, but a great percentage of the training we do is with odd implanted alternative training," said Slater, who owns Slater's Hardware, a company that manufactures the atlas stones and other materials for the World's Strongest Man competition. "You develop grip strength, not just barbell strength so to speak, and that directly relates to the field.

"Say for example if you're making a tackle and you have to grab, you're not going to have a small handle like you would with a barbell and pull. That's one of the reasons we train with these things. You may have to grab onto an ankle or a leg or a forearm. It is very important to develop that grip strength."

Even Ohio State wasn't recruiting Roberts until he was invited to partake in a senior camp on campus. There, the Buckeyes' coaching staff got a closer look at the linebacker prospect, only to follow up shortly after with an offer.

Roberts, who also was considering Arizona – his father's alma mater – along with Purdue, Cincinnati and Wake Forest, took a few weeks to decide on Ohio State before coming to his final decision to commit in mid-July.

Never did he reflect on how many stars he had by national recruiting services. Luke doesn't even know he's ranked a three-star prospect by Scout.com.

"Obviously people didn't really know about me that much and I am not exactly a super-highly recruited guy," he said. "I wasn't out there with 20 (offers) and a five-star rating, but the Ohio State coaches know how to evaluate talent so I was very pleased when I got the offer and I knew that I worked and I knew I deserved it."

Maybe it is understandable that Roberts' recruitment hadn't taken off the way it had for other top prospects in his class. The 6-2, 225-pounder admitted he wasn't "blessed with amazing size or speed," but those natural gifts were replaced by an unmatched work ethic.

That was what Slater noticed early in his relationship with the prospect, who wouldn't miss a workout even if Slater was running late while preoccupied with his business. Matt said Luke never takes days off, and if the rare occurrence comes along where he does, it is only so he can work harder the following day.

The work ethic was matched with a strength not even Slater had seen in someone Luke's age. "He was so strong, it was kind of a weird freakish sort of strength where he'd pick up an atlas stone, or even a log, and put it over his head but his nervous system wasn't prepared for handling it," Slater said. "It was kind of a bizarre thing. It was kind of like he had to grow into his strength, like his grace or his coordination had to grow into it.

"He was stronger when he first started than some of the guys who had been training with me for years, and at that time he was 14 or 15 years old."

Now Luke is primed to enter an Ohio State program that has become known for producing outstanding linebackers, including fellow Lancaster graduate Bobby Carpenter, who starred as a Buckeye before embarking on a career in the NFL.

Carpenter – who has worked out with Luke while giving him pointers to improve his game – is one of a long list of recent standout linebackers that also includes James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, Austin Spitler, Ross Homan and Brian Rolle.

Laurinaitis and Hawk, arguably the two best OSU linebackers of the last decade, both came to Ohio State after being ranked by Scout as three-star recruits.

"I think at the end of the day it is the tradition of the program that kids rise up to, and also included in that is the competition you're going to face in practice every day," Matt said. "So with the tradition expecting so much out of you and the guys next to you pushing you so hard, it is either live or die."

Ohio State first-year head coach Luke Fickell was previously the program's linebackers coach before being recently promoted to take over the program. Three-time Super Bowl champion Mike Vrabel was hired to replace Fickell.

Luke understands the support system for linebackers given at Ohio State, which was one of the prime reasons he found himself drawn to the program.

"They have a great tradition at the linebacker position," Roberts said. "Coach Fickell, who was coaching linebackers, is a great coach and he knows how to make good ones. They know how to evaluate them, too. Hopefully I'll go there and continue the tradition.

"Coach Vrabel is one of the big reasons I did commit. He was actually hired two days before I committed, the day I visited. Obviously he has a great wealth of knowledge regarding playing the linebacker position. Playing for a guy like him will be a phenomenal tool."

The competitive nature Luke has taken on was first noticed at the ripe age of 2, when Matt vividly remembers watching his son play soccer on a field that was a combination of gravel and grass.

Because Luke's parents were Christian missionaries he moved to Romania when he was 2 years old and spent a few years in that country before ultimately moving back to the United States, but it was there where Matt said Luke learned to adapt.

That skill, in turn, could have an immense impact on Luke's ability to move forward from high school to college football with ease. He's planning on graduating from Lancaster early so he can partake in Ohio State's spring practices in April.

"My first thought was that he was going to miss some of the passages of life that seniors in high school have," Matt admitted when thinking about Luke's decision to graduate early. "With him, he's always looking forward. He is brilliant. From English to math to science to being on the field, he just gets stuff quick."

When it comes to being overlooked, Luke said, it is just another lesson that will continue to help him grow into what he hopes to become – the next great Ohio State linebacker.

Matt doesn't see any way his son won't prosper. "I am excited that he finally got the attention for all the hard work he has poured into it," Matt said. "To play for such a high-level program and to know he's going to be pushed, it is a challenge. The opportunity to get an education, to play football, to be a part of a community that's so passionate about the sport and also recognizes the tradition of the program, that's perfect ground for Luke to grow in."

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