Rice Lake (Wis.) junior linebacker Austin Roberts has taken his second sport to a whole other level, earning All-American status by USA Wrestling last season at 220 pounds.
"It's helped a lot with my explosion," Roberts told Badger Nation. "It gets me stronger than some other kids, and helped me get off blocks. My coach always says wrestling is the best sport you can do with football."
Evidently. Earning first-team all-state honors from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a junior, the 6-3 Roberts has registered 262 tackles, eight sacks and 10 forced fumbles the last two seasons from his linebacker position.
Roberts played his first varsity season as a sophomore around 190 pounds, but recognized he needed to gain more weight and speed to be an attractive option for college coaches. So prior to his junior season, Roberts focused on speed workouts and putting on a solid 20-to-30 pounds by hitting the weight room and the family's pantry.
"It really showed up in games how that really helped me out," said Roberts. "I feel like I put on a lot of weight from last year, size wise, so I was able to really go downhill and shed blocks a lot easier and go through the offensive line. I grew a lot over the summer through my pass defense."
In addition to the speed drills, Roberts pushed himself on the college camp circuit to gain experience and to start making connections. He started and ended at Iowa State and stopped at Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Minnesota in between. He also stopped at Indiana and Purdue to visit the campuses. Those stops reinforced his training.
"Speed kills," said Roberts. "That's what colleges are looking for along with nonstop intensity, whether it's in the weight room, at practice or throughout a game. If I just keep that level up, I can shred the competition."
Since the coaching transition at Wisconsin, Roberts has not had personal interaction with the coaching staff and new head coach Gary Andersen. That doesn't mean, however, that the Badgers aren't interested.
"I got six letters from them the other day," said Roberts. "I would like to start speaking to them and getting to meet them."
Originally from New Jersey and moving to the state when he was in fifth grade, Roberts doesn't have the same type of attachment to the Badgers as other in-state prospects growing up. That doesn't mean playing for Wisconsin wouldn't be a dream.
"I love Wisconsin and I love the Big Ten," said Roberts, who took a pair of unofficial visits to Madison last year. "My dream is to play Division 1, that big-time football."
Invited to multiple junior days, Roberts said the college interest has started to increase since he sent out his junior highlights with more colleges starting to send mail and messages over Facebook. With another trip throughout the camp circuit, Roberts plans to start rebuilding his frame following wrestling season.
"I just have to work on my speed," said Roberts, who reports a 4.0 grade point average. "I feel like I have what it takes to play at the next level, but coaches want to see those 40-yard dash times. I need to cut that down from a 4.76. That's going to make a difference if I work my down."