Scoring touchdowns isn’t the only think that James Roberts does on the football field.
It sure does seem that way, though.
The Montana Tech junior receiver has caught 18 passes for 199 yards in seven games for the Orediggers this season. Six of those catches have gone for touchdowns.
That means 33 percent of the time Roberts touches the football, the Orediggers put six points on the board.
“For a while I think it was like 56 percent,” Roberts says with a laugh. “Every pass was a touchdown.”
Roberts is tied for No. 6 in the Frontier Conference in touchdowns. Only Pat Hansen, who has nine TDs, has scored more than the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Roberts.
The touchdowns have been big ones, too. Five of Roberts’ six touchdowns put the Orediggers on top. He caught two touchdowns against Southern Oregon and Montana Western. His second TD against Western was a walk-off 5-yard score in the 30-24 double-overtime win.
He also caught a go-ahead touchdown in the season-opening game against Eastern Oregon, although the Orediggers lost that game. Only his 10-yard touchdown grab at Dickinson State wasn’t a game-changer.
Being 6-5 certainly helps get quarterback Nick Baker’s attention in the red zone.
“The height definitely does have an advantage,” Roberts says. “If I just stand there I’m already a foot taller than most corners.”
Throwing to the back corner of the end zone has been a successful play for the Orediggers and Roberts. That’s the play that ended the double-overtime game at Western. If the ball is placed just right, the play is practically indefensible.
“The defender has to go through you to block the ball,” Roberts says. “You’ll either catch it or get pass interference and you get to redo the play.”
There’s no statistical data to back it up, but Roberts also had a hand in a large percentage of Hansen’s touchdowns, too. If you see Hansen running free for a big run, you can pretty much bet that big No. 82 is nearby, helping to pave the way.
Run blocking is something the receiver takes great pride in doing right.
“If it was my block that caused someone to break away for a play or a touchdown, hell yeah,” Roberts says. “That’s just as good as catching a pass 20, 30 yards down the field.”
If the number of receptions doesn’t jump off the stat sheet for you, consider this: Roberts played defensive end his first three years at Montana Tech.
Roberts redshirted one season, then greyshirted another before playing one season at defensive end for coach Bob Green’s Orediggers in 2010.
“I did all right,” Roberts says of playing on the line. “I think I had a two or three sacks. I did pretty decent.”
Still, he wasn’t playing the position he planned when he moved to Butte from Nevada.
“I had no plays of playing defensive end,” Roberts says. “I came up here and walked on, and coach Green said I’d probably do better at defensive end. He wanted me to put on a bunch of weight.”
Roberts went to work after that. He didn’t complain or argue that decision by the coach, however.
“No, I was just excited to play,” he says.
While wearing No. 95 for the Orediggers, Roberts stood out on the defensive line as a tall, athletic defensive end with big-time speed.
He was so fast and athletic that the Orediggers put in during a Hail Mary play at the end of their season-opening loss to South Dakota Tech at Alumni Coliseum.
“I got my hands on it,” Roberts says.
While playing on the defensive line, Roberts also showed off a super-high metabolism. No matter how much he ate and lifted, he just couldn’t get as big as his coaches wanted to.
“Eat and lift and lift and lift,” Roberts said of his weight-gain plan. He topped out at about 225 pounds.
So, Roberts switched to offense in the spring of 2011 when he first got on the field for new coach Chuck Morrell and his staff.
“I still wasn’t up to the weight that they wanted me to be at defensive end, so they moved me to receiver,” Roberts says. “It was the position I wanted to play the entire time.”
Roberts came to Montana Tech in August 2008 thinking he’d be catching passes. That’s what he did best at Yerington High School in Nevada. Of course, he was also pretty good at defensive end.
He was All-State on both sides of the ball his junior and senior years. He was the team’s offensive MVP while helping Yerington to the 2A state championship game. Roberts also returned and covered kicks and punts.
“I never left the field,” he says. “We didn’t have many people, and the people we did have didn’t leave the field.”
Roberts also played basketball and ran track. He pole vaulted and ran the anchor leg on the school’s team relay.
“My dad told me to play three sports or get a job,” Roberts says. “So I was like ‘I’ll play three sports.'”
In his first year back on offense last season, Roberts caught 32 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
“It took me a while to get used to it,” he says of his return to offense after three years. “Once I got used to it, it felt good. It felt natural, like I was supposed to be out there playing receiver.”
While his speed might be somewhat deceptive because of his size, Roberts isn’t only fast for a lineman. He is actually one of the fastest guys on the team.
“I’d probably say I’m one of the fastest,” Roberts says, even though he plays the same position of speedsters Zack Kinney and Kevin Moss. “They probably have a little faster start, but anything over 10 yards I’ll have them beat. It just takes me a little longer to get going.”
It also took Roberts’ career at Tech a little longer to get going.
After being turned into a defensive end while redshirting his first year, Roberts had to grey shirt during his second. He didn’t get enough credits during his first two semesters to be eligible to play.
“I suited up,” he says. “I practiced and everything, I just didn’t play in the game.”
Realizing that it would take him six years to get in his four years of football playing didn’t sit well with Roberts. In time though, he realized it was a good thing. So did the Orediggers.
“During the time I hated it,” he says of not being able to play in his second season. “Now that it’s over I’m glad because it gave me another year to play the position I want.”
Now, it’s full speed ahead for Roberts and the Orediggers.
“I had no idea I’d ever be playing in an offense like this — no huddle, high paced,” he says. “I did not expect it at all. I’m loving it.”