In the wee hours of the night on Nov. 5, Hokies wide receiver Dyrell Roberts was in so much pain he could barely speak to the doctors at Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg. During the first half of Virginia Tech’s Thursday night victory over Georgia Tech hours earlier, Roberts had been kneed in the thigh and now the skin around the injured area just looked “dead,” as Roberts rushed himself to the hospital.
Doctors quickly determined he was suffering from compartment syndrome, which can cause permanent muscle damage if untreated, and emergency surgery was conducted. To relieve additional pressure, doctors left the wounds open for a few more days. Roberts, meanwhile, could only keep down the ice cream his mom would pick up from a nearby Dairy Queen because of all the medicine he was on. But it’s the pain that still sticks with him to this day.
“I had a morphine button that I could press every eight minutes, and you best believe I pressed it every eight minutes,” Roberts said.
He never did play again during the 2010 season, and after not participating fully during spring practice, Roberts has seen his name slip down the wide receiver depth chart as the Hokies prepare for the 2011 campaign. But on Tuesday evening, his recovery could take a major step forward when he participates fully in the Hokies’ first mini-scrimmage of training camp.
Usually an initial scrimmage just five days into camp is mostly for younger players trying to demonstrate they belong in the depth chart or freshmen looking to show they shouldn’t be redshirted. For Roberts, though, he must prove that he’s still the same player who racked up a team-high 134 receiving yards in a win over Wake Forest, less than two weeks before the injury occurred.
Immediately after the surgery, Roberts considered taking a redshirt this season, especially with fellow seniors Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale returning and already ahead of him on the wide receiver depth chart.
“Before things got going and the rehab process really sped up, I was up to it. I knew I still had my redshirt year and I knew that we had a lot of receivers and we all had experience,” Roberts said. “I thought about it a lot and me and my family sat down and talked about it and they said, “If you don’t feel 100 percent [ready] to go, you might as well use it.”
“The coaches decided, but they said the only way I would redshirt is if I wasn’t 100 percent and I wasn’t full speed and couldn’t do the things that I could do when I was 100 percent.”
Roberts credits his time at home in Smithfield, Va., before the Hokies left for the Orange Bowl, when his mother and grandmother would give him daily massages, as when his health finally seemed to turn a corner.
By the time spring practice arrived, Roberts felt his speed was back, but “I couldn’t put it in the ground like when I’m trying to come out of my break, cutting fast, I was more hesitant. Maybe I could have done it, but since I wasn’t full tilt there really wasn’t no need for me to overdo it and maybe injure it again.”
Perhaps more worrisome was his weight. Roberts dropped more than 30 pounds courtesy of the ice cream-only diet, and wasn’t allowed to participate fully during spring practice. Redshirt junior Marcus Davis, meanwhile, had a breakout few weeks and officially moved ahead of Roberts on the flanker depth chart heading into the summer.
On the depth chart Virginia Tech distributed on media day Saturday, Roberts wasn’t even listed on the two-deep. But Roberts has his weight back up to 196 pounds, and he said Monday that he feels 100 percent healthy. He added that recently he’s returned to his familiar spot of No. 2 flanker behind Coale, at least during drills in practice.
Roberts will likely continue to be one of the Hokies’ primary kickoff returners this year, but how much time he actually sees on offense remains to be seen. Wide receiver might be Virginia Tech’s deepest position this year.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said Monday that with how many three wide receiver sets Virginia Tech plans to use this season and how much all of the team’s wide receivers participate on special teams, “I don’t think there’s any question Dyrell will get on the field and get back on the field and play well for us.”
But if recent history is any indication, Roberts would be best served regaining his spot amongst the top four receivers. Last season, when the Hokies offense broke all sorts of records, the No. 5 and 6 receivers (D.J. Coles and Xavier Boyce) had a combined five catches.
“If I am the fifth receiver, I don’t know how it’ll sit when game time starts but we so early into camp, I can’t let the depth chart … it changes left and right,” Roberts said. “The coaches got full control over that, so if they see something that makes me that or makes me better than that, we’ll see.”
It would seem their first real look will come Tuesday.