During his annual process of gathering player information for recruiters across college football, Neville defensive coordinator Benjy Lewis sent out a group text to players he felt schools either were interested in or one day would be.
Lewis received an unusual text back from one of his players.
“Did you mean to put me in that group text? Are you sure I need to be on there?”
Henton Roberts, at 5’11” and 190 pounds, was skeptical. After all his journey into the college ranks are supposed to unfold on the base path, right? Judging his own size, Neville's talented catcher sort of saw himself as a baseball player above all else.
Lewis’ answer was an emphatic yes. Just a junior, there’s still time for Roberts to add some weight and size to his frame, but the physicality, instinct and hustle are all present.
“He really knows the game of football,” Neville head coach Jeff Tannehill said. “He understands the offense we’re playing every week. He gets everybody lined up, and he plays with aggression. He fills that hole with speed. With the exception of his height, he’s the perfect linebacker. There’s no doubt I think he can play at the next level.”
Roberts’ potential was revealed in the very first game of the season against Leesville, where the junior linebacker displayed his expanded abilities. Roberts, who moved over to Neville from Cedar Creek as a freshman and got his first chance to play as a sophomore with the Tigers, showcased his physicality in 2019.
Anyone who watched Roberts understood he could meet an opponent in the hole and win those one-on-one battles. Tougher than a two-dollar steak, Roberts earned his role as the team's "Mike" (middle linebacker) in 2019, but with Javon Carter graduating and former Cedar Creek teammate Lane Blue transferring over, his natural move to “Willy” (weak-side linebacker) was inevitable.
“They wanted me around the ball more this year,” Roberts said. “Last year I definitely struggled a lot covering people. This year the coaches let me know I’d be in coverage a lot more. Last year I felt like I played physical, but I just wasn’t getting around to the ball like I did this year. I played a lot faster this year. I think going from Cedar Creek to Neville was a huge jump. Everything happens just so fast. There was an adjustment there. This year I settled down my mind.”
The move to Willy meant Roberts would be tasked with filling holes, dropping back in coverage and also rushing the passer. The position has the most varied assignments in the linebacker unit, and Roberts was up for the challenge. He finished the 2020 football season with impressive miscellaneous stats — one fumble recovery, four PBUs, a blocked punt and even scored a defensive touchdown. His leadership and added coverage skills also helped Roberts earn district MVP honors.
The District 1-4A Defensive MVP can add another honor to his resume, as he’s The Ouachita Citizen’s 2020 selection for Defensive Player of the Year.
To earn this honor, a defensive player has to not only fill up a stat sheet but also make plays that win ballgames or protect leads. Roberts could argue he did both this season, but he doesn’t have to. Tannehill gladly makes the argument for him.
“We had just gone up by like 14 points in the third quarter against Bastrop, and (Bastrop) hits this long crossing pattern across the middle,” Tannehill said. “I mean it was a tight ballgame at this point. This play was going to have a big impact, and here comes Henton. He makes this unbelievable play, running this guy down from behind. He prevents him from scoring and then we keep them out of the end zone. That’s the kind of plays Henton Roberts made this year.”
Roberts remembered that play well, especially because he can recall all the coaches greeting him on the sideline afterward. He even got a nice pat on the back from his principal (and former head coach) Mickey McCarty.
“So I was dropping into coverage when I saw the receiver break on the ball, and that’s when Maurion Eleam tried to get a pick and jumped it a little too quick,” Robert said. “When the receiver caught it, I knew if he scored it was going to be a different ballgame. So I just said to myself, ‘This kid right here is not going to score this touchdown.’ I chased him and dove to make the tackle. Luckily I made the stop.”
Through the challenges that 2020 presented, Roberts made a position shift look almost effortless. And it didn’t take him long to develop chemistry with his old pal Blue at linebacker.
And as the 2021 football season approaches, Roberts understands it’s his last shot to be seen and garner a scholarship to play at the next level. And yes, Roberts is now starting to expand his thought process regarding his future playing ball after high school.
A successful 2020 season followed by a grueling offseason workout regimen to bulk up more could lead Roberts down a path he wouldn't have predicted before the 2020 season.
“I know 190 pounds for a linebacker isn’t ideal, so I want to be sitting around 205 and still be able to run like I can right now,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot to improve on this summer.”