Commentary

The unlikely recruiter

WVU's Daron Robert unusual background might be why he's so successful

Originally Published: September 26, 2011
By Dave Hooker | ESPN Recruiting

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Daron Roberts' résumé doesn't exactly look like that of a top recruiter until you dig a little deeper.

• President of the University of Texas student body
• Staffer for Senator Joe Lieberman
• Master's Degree and juris doctorate from Harvard
• Assistant coach for Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions

No recruiting experience, but those experiences and achievements shaped the way he approaches recruiting.

That's why Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen tabbed Roberts to head up West Virginia's most important recruiting territory in late March after Lonnie Galloway left for Wake Forest.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Courtesy/Maggie ThomasMountaineers coach Daron Roberts doesn't have a typical background, but it's working well for him and West Virginia so far.
"From my perspective, for us to be successful as a team, we have to get the best talent from the D.C., Baltimore, Virginia area," said Roberts, who gave up on becoming a lawyer to chase his dream of coaching college football. "There is so much talent there. We have to do well there to do well on the field."

Roberts had no time to waste. Recruiters from other programs already had a huge head start with prospects from the area. In today's accelerated recruiting, they were halfway down the track and Roberts wasn't even in the starting blocks. Despite having no background in recruiting, Roberts refused to just run in circles. Instead, he came up with a plan and before long, he caught up to the pack.

"I just did my homework from the very beginning," Roberts said. "The first thing I did was I created a list of selling points of West Virginia as a university, West Virginia as a place to live and West Virginia as a football team. I spent the first three weeks while I was here just going over the selling points of West Virginia.

"I didn't look at any kids. I didn't look at any film. So once I got familiar with the university, then I started looking at recruits from my area. I just approached it like dating. (I'd) Facebook message, I'd encourage them to call me. I'd always answer the phone. They can call me at midnight and I'm answering."

Roberts has played the field well. Since he was hired, he has helped secure six commitments. Five are from the Washington D.C. area. The success Roberts has had is even more impressive considering how competitive recruiting is in the area.

"It's very heated," he said. "When I would travel in that area, every day I would see VaTech, UVA, Tennessee, NC State, Maryland, Duke and we're all going to the same practices, we're all eating at the same restaurants, we're all staying at the same hotels.

"It didn't take long for me to figure out that this is going to be a very contentious battle. We're all fighting for the same guys. The area is so small geographically."

As per NCAA rules, Roberts can't comment on specific prospects, but it's clear even he is a bit taken aback by the success he's had so quickly.

"Sometimes I wonder," Roberts said with a smile. "I don't know myself ... Who knows? Next year, I could go oh--for-whatever. It's worked well this first year."

A logical approach and good old-fashioned hard work has been key. Moreover, West Virginia has plenty to sell prospects. Just ask them.

"The coaches, they just make you feel welcome," said WVU commit Trevor Williams, who is from Baltimore Calvert Hall. "It's not too far from home. I just love their organization and where they're headed."

Williams was offered a scholarship as an athlete. He plays wide receiver now but could play defensive back in college, a move he'll make without fuss if they ask. That's because both sides of the ball at West Virginia are appealing to prospects. Offensively, the Mountaineers run a fast-paced spread offense that airs it out. Defensively, they run a multiple 3-3-5 that keeps offenses guessing.

Then, there's the Tavon Austin effect. After signing with West Virginia out of Baltimore Dunbar, Austin has become one of the most explosive players in the nation as a junior at West Virginia.

"Tavon Austin, he broke down the flood gates for us," said Da'Quan Davis, another commitment from from Baltimore Calvert Hall. "Coach Holgorsen, he's bringing a nice feel to it with his history at Oklahoma State. His offensive schemes are just great. Perennially, West Virginia's defenses have been great. I just feel as if the two are meshing together and we're going to have a great program down there."

The Mountaineers have also built good will in the area. Case in point: Four-star linebacker Sam Lebbie from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha was once close to committing to Rutgers before the Scarlet Knights backed off him over grade concerns. West Virginia, however, stuck by Lebbie, who maintains he'll qualify academically. If he does, the athletic 6-foot-2, 235-pounder may prove to be the steal of West Virginia's 2012 class. If not, he could be just a prep school stopover from being a standout in Morgantown.

"I think they're just giving everybody a chance, people that are overlooked, people that aren't given a fair chance in this whole Maryland area," Lebbie said. "They give us a fair chance and that makes us want to go there."

While few players have yet to talk to him about what it was like to work with Sen. Lieberman, his four seasons in the NFL has made an impact.

"I have had three players who came to me once I first got the job here and closed the door and had a conversation about their desire to be an NFL football player," Roberts said. "So I do think they appreciate that I've been in professional football and I'm bringing those lessons to college."

While Roberts has had remarkable success in just six months, the future looks even brighter.

"My primary focus right now is on 2012, getting those kids in the family at West Virginia," he said. "But what helps is having a network of coaches who can call me and say 'Keep your eye on this sophomore.' That allows me to tell our recruiting guys to get film on this sophomore. The coaches in that area have been extraordinary in that area of pointing me in the direction of talent."

Roberts said his most difficult challenge was learning the thick NCAA rule book, but there have been no reported issues. Maybe those Harvard degrees helped some there.

As for the decision to turn his back on the courtroom for the football field, there's been no objection.

"I never sit in my office watching film thinking to myself 'I'd much rather be in a courtroom,'" Roberts said. "I enjoyed the work I did in law school but I'm in college football, and there's not a more exciting job than coaching in college football."

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.

Dave Hooker

Reporter, RecruitingNation