Roberts likes Illini 'Way Too Much'

2014 linebacker Austin Roberts couldn't be happier with his commitment to Illinois.

CHICAGO - Just like everybody else dressed in blue and orange outside Soldier Field last weekend prior to Illinois' matchup with Washington, Austin Roberts was having a great time with both friends and strangers.

The senior linebacker from Rice Lake (Wisc.) spent the day getting to know fellow Illini commitments and recruiting various other targets while taking in the game day atmosphere.

Wearing a big, bulky leg brace didn't weigh down his spirits.

"I've been resting and waiting on the swelling to go down," Roberts said. "That's the biggest thing before surgery."

Roberts tore his ACL in Rice Lake's third game of the season, a loss in which he recorded 16 tackles before getting hurt.

"I've been playing tackle football since I was eight years old and I never had anything like this," he said.

Freak plays are often cited in football -- add Roberts to the list of the unfortunate. He crossed the field in pursuit of the ball carrier, running down the sideline. Two other defenders were close behind when Roberts reached his destination. During the tackle, Roberts foot planted into the ground while the force of everybody colliding twisted his body.

His knee buckled, his season ended.

"It happens. It's part of the game sadly," he said.

If Roberts is forcing his optimism, he's doing a good job with the cover-up. The rehab process is expected to take at least nine months. It's a forecast Roberts is quick to point out coincides with June, when he's expected to enroll at Illinois.

In the meantime, Roberts plans to take on a student-coach type role to both continue progressing his football knowledge and to help his teammates.

"That's kind of the silver lining to this whole thing," he says. "I definitely think it could help out. You've got to do what you've got to do."

Illinois coach Tim Beckman did his part to keep Roberts upbeat following the injury.

"Coach said they're behind me 110 percent so I'm definitely happy with that," Roberts said. "I'm ready to get this thing healed up. Beckman told me I didn't need to worry about anything."

Roberts' comfort with Beckman is one of the main reasons he committed to the Illini in June. His summer pledge surprised Wisconsin fans because it came days before Roberts was supposed to camp in Madison and perform in front of the Badgers coaching staff.

It's been speculated an offer was expected to be extended, but Roberts never made it to the camp.

"I liked Illinois way too much," he said.

On the surface, it looked like the Illini had swooped in and lifted a recruit out from under the Badgers. Logistically speaking, that is what happened. But there's more to the story.

Roberts was born in New Jersey and his family moved to Wisconsin when he was nine. He expressed tremendous respect for the Badgers program but said he didn't grow up a fan. And while it's a solid seven hour drive from his home to Champaign, it's four hours to Madison.

So with some of the usual advantages of the home state school erased, what pushed Roberts to the Illini? He believed in Beckman.

"That's why I committed, I trusted Coach Beckman," he said. "He's an awesome guy and the school is just everything I wanted, so I could tell that he had something special going and I wanted to get on that."

That's why the Cincinnati win didn't take him by surprise. Not at all.

"That was awesome. After reading stuff online and all that other junk where people were saying we were supposed to get beat up and all that, they came out and surprised some people," he said.

And yeah, Roberts knows that Illini senior linebacker Jonathan Brown currently leads the Big Ten in tackles and sophomore Mason Monheim is third on the list.

For a guy who recorded over 260 tackles combined in his sophomore and junior seasons in high school, Roberts said he has much to learn from those already at Illinois.

"I watch them both a lot," Roberts said. "I kind of emulate them, especially Mason with the way I carry myself away from the field. I know Mason and met him on my visit when I came in June and then I also talked to them after their first game in the locker room. I've met his parents and their awesome."

Even though Illinois lost to Washington, Roberts soaked in the experience.

"We have a tough schedule, non-conference and all the way through the conference," he said. "It will be a test."

Already saying 'we' in reference to the Illini, Roberts will be rehabbing and coaching and watching, seven hours and nine months away from where he wants to be in June.

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