When Virginia Tech wide receiver Dyrell Roberts missed the final five games of 2010 after developing compartment syndrome in his thigh and undergoing early-morning emergency surgery, he was in too much pain to miss the sport he loves.
But as he sat on the sideline for 11 games in 2011 nursing a broken arm suffered on a kickoff return in a win over Arkansas State, Roberts’s dealt with an entirely new pain that had nothing to do with the left arm hanging by his side in a sling. The fifth-year senior from Smithfield, Va., ached to play football again.
Roberts, though, is back on the comeback trail this spring, part of a revamped receiving corps that features the sort of experienced parts that could make the graduation of record-setting seniors Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale a moot point.
“I feel like I’m on the right path,” Roberts said last weekend following Virginia Tech’s first open scrimmage.
The past two seasons had a similar vibe. Back in 2010, the converted running back was on pace to set career highs in receptions and receiving yards – and was less than two weeks removed from a career-high six-catch, 134-yard performance against Wake Forest — before getting kneed in the thigh during a kickoff return in a Thursday night win over Georgia Tech.
Roberts’s road to recovery was long and arduous after major surgery – “I had a morphine button that I could press every eight minutes, and you best believe I pressed it every eight minutes,” he said last August when describing his hospital stay — but when he made a circus over-the-back catch in Virginia Tech’s 2011 season opener against Appalachian State, it appeared Roberts would be a valuable playmaker in what was supposed to be his final season in Blacksburg. Two weeks later, however, a big hit by an Arkansas State defender on the opening kickoff turned into a season-ending injury.
But because Roberts had played in less than 30 percent of Virginia Tech’s games, he was eligible to apply for a medical redshirt. He considers it a blessing in disguise now that he’s a redshirt senior.
“The doctor said I could’ve come back last year but the coaches told me they had a way for me to get a whole year out of the deal so I can’t turn down a whole other year,” Roberts said. “Everything feels good right now.”
So far this spring most of Roberts’s reps have come in the slot, where he should be able to take advantage of his speed.
Though Roberts will likely be listed behind wide receivers Marcus Davis and D.J. Coles on the depth chart in the fall, that shouldn’t mean much given how many three wide receiver sets the Hokies used a year ago. That trio should give quarterback Logan Thomas plenty of weapons to work with if he has enough time to throw the football next season.
Roberts has also auditioned to be the team’s punt returner and is open to returning kickoffs again, even though both of his previous injuries came on kickoff returns. His 1,577 total return yards and 25.9-yard kick return average are both still school records.
But the first two weeks of spring practice have really been about getting his timing and rhythm back, a process that could extend into the fall. The reality is Roberts has only taken part in a handful of practices over the past 17 months – a fact that isn’t lost on the Hokies coaching staff.
“There is a rust value,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “I don’t care how long you’ve played this game, I can’t tell you it’s like riding a bicycle. It’s not. You just don’t get right back on it. There’s a lot of reps to get back to the feel of the game, the flow of the game and get his timing back . . . but there’s nobody working any harder to get it done than Dyrell.”