Roberts Hoping for History

After ending his "whirlwind" recruitment in mid June with a commitment to Illinois, Rice Lake (WI) linebacker Austin Roberts is hoping to lead his team to its first outright conference championship since 1985.

When Rice Lake (WI) linebacker Austin Roberts decided to commit to Illinois in mid June, he had was in midst of a long string of grinding high school camps, college visits and offseason conditioning.

"It was really a whirlwind," said Roberts.

Maybe that's why when his official offer came in the mail the first week of August, it finally hit Roberts that he was going to play Big Ten football.

"It really helped it sink it," Roberts told Fox Sports Next. "Just to see it on paper was amazing. We're going to get in framed and get it hanged up somewhere. (My scholarship) isn't just word of mouth anymore. I can hold the paper in my hand and say, ‘Here, this is it.' Having that solid offer really feels good."

Roberts was a great pickup for head coach Tim Beckman and his staff when the 6-3, 220-pound linebacker picked the Illini over 10 other mid-major offers.

Not only did Roberts record 262 tackles, eight sacks and 10 forced fumbles since becoming a starter during his sophomore year, he earned All-American status by USA Wrestling as a sophomore at 220 pounds and finished his junior wrestling season placing third in state in the same weight class.

He planned to begin his summer camp circuit at Illinois and do camps for Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin, but he knew that the Illini was the place he wanted to be after his visit to Champaign.

"I really believe that everything happens for a reason," said Roberts. "I had my best camp at Illinois. My visit was awesome. Everything was just so perfect. I thought to myself that even if these other schools offered, I'd still be going to Illinois either way. I went on my visit and thought that this is where I was meant to be. It was all around the best fit for me."

The decision surprised a lot of people, but probably no fan base was surprised more than Wisconsin's. Roberts had been slowly building a relationship with defensive backs coach Ben Strickland and defensive coordinator/linebacker coach Dave Aranda and many expected Roberts would have earned the coveted in-state offer after his UW camp appearance.

A Wisconsin offer would have been nice, according to Roberts, but it wouldn't have mattered.

"They needed a couple linebackers for the class and if I continued playing at the level I had been playing at all summer, I am guessing they would have offered," said Roberts. "Wisconsin is a great school, but Illinois was just perfect for me. That's the only way to put it. I was looking for a Big Ten school to play football and the academics are great. They push kids in the classroom. They want you to be the best you can be on and off the field, I love the facilities and the updates they've made and I love Coach Beckman and the coaching staff.

"Coach Beckman is turning the program around. Last season wasn't that great, but I think this season will be another building year and my freshman year will be a big turnaround for us."

Roberts couldn't remember the last time Rice Lake won an outright conference championship (it was 1985), one of the main reasons he focused all offseason on increasing his speed. Wanting to bring a trophy to his school before heading to Illinois, Roberts has already lost three tenths of a second off his 40-yard dash time, and has been pushing his teammates since practices began.

"This is definitely a great year talent wise for us," said Roberts. "This is the best group of guys we've had in probably seven or eight years. I've been watching our high school team that whole time and it's definitely the most talented group of guys. We just need to get a couple more things together. Everybody is working real hard and we'll continue to do that as a team."

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