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The Underdog... Checking in with Wyatt Roberts


Wyatt Roberts, quarterback, scrappy underdog, Netflix star, is happy to retreat from the spotlight and begin a fairly typical adult life, at least a typical one for a good ole boy from small-town Mississippi who likes hunting more than celebrity.

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He got married in December. After some time at Mississippi State following his star turn at East Mississippi Community College and Netflix’s “Last Chance U,” he’s finishing his college degree online. He’s got a job lined up at a steel mill in Columbus, Miss.

“It’s all real world stuff now,” he says.

Roberts represents the other, less high-profile side of being a junior college quarterback. While the “Last Chance U” title best applies to transfers who flamed out at FBS programs for on- or off-field issues, Roberts’ decision to attend East Mississippi was based on trying to get a first chance.

He was a four-year starter at Louisville High School, where he put up big numbers and won a lot of games. But he also was only 6-0.

He got an offer from Jacksonville State, but then coach Bill Clark took over at UAB and he got lost in the shuffle. That’s how he ended up at East Mississippi.

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Of course, a player who signs with a JC right out of high school can be quickly overshadowed by a big-name transfer from a Power 5 school, and that’s just what happened to Roberts. Twice.

First, there was Chad Kelly, who transferred from Clemson, led the Lions to a national title, signed with Ole Miss and is now with the Denver Broncos.

Roberts says he felt OK learning from Kelly and backing him up. His feelings were different, however, when John Franklin III transferred from Florida State.

“There was a little bit of disappointment. A little bit of anger,” Roberts says. “It almost felt like they didn’t think I was the man for the job so they got someone else. They didn’t think I could do it.”

He could have transferred to another JC. In fact, Roberts says his “phone blew up” with coaches in hot pursuit, sensing he might be disgruntled.

“Then it just hit me,” Roberts says. “I ain’t going to run from this. I’m going to embrace it and sit here and stand my ground and if he beats me out I’ll shake his hand.”

For those who watched the show, you don’t need to know what happened next.

Says coach Buddy Stephens: “Wyatt ran the offense better than John. Period.”

While the big-name QB transfers often immediately take over based on pure talent, just about every JC coach has a story about the uncelebrated but unyielding high school signee prevailing in a competition.

For example, Garden City (Kan.) Community College won the 2016 national championship not with touted Virginia Tech transfer Dwayne Lawson but with the unheralded Peyton Huslig, now at Missouri State.

Kai Locksley, a Texas transfer, thought he’d immediately win the job at Iowa Western last season, but redshirt freshman Kurt Walding refused to wave a white flag.

“They both had good camps, but Kurt didn’t do anything to lose the job,” Reivers coach Scott Strohmeier says. “So we started Kurt. When we needed a spark, Kai gave us a spark. Then we made the decision from Week 3 or 4 that he was going to be the starter going forward. He took it and ran with it.”

While Franklin, a former four-star recruit, was unhappy being a backup, Roberts says the two became friends.

“We never had a cross word,” he says.

In fact, the secret of junior college football success is blending those big-name transfers with the high school signees into a cohesive whole. While all the players’ ultimate goal is getting away to some place better, the means to achieve that goal is winning in the present.

A guy who is pouting or feeling like he’s better than his JC teammates doesn’t last long.

“Those guys with their lips poked out... they get gone,” Roberts says. “As Coach Stephens said, we were all there for a reason. Whether you are a five-star or a half-a-star, you did something to be there. Whatever you’re trying to do, you have to put it behind you and work together or you aren’t going to win any games.”

While Roberts says he’s happy that he got to wear the uniform of his favorite team growing up — he walked on at Mississippi State after EMCC — he admits he fell short of his football dreams.

“It was a little disappointing; I’m not going to lie,” he says. “Football has been a part of my life and has been a dream of mine since I was born. When you put that much time and effort and sweat into it, it’s nice to see your dream work out. But it doesn’t always work out. When the big offer never came, I decided to come up here.”

Still, he has no regrets.

“If I had to do it all over again,” he says, “I’d do it the exact same way.”

— Written by Ted Miller (@TedMillerRK) for Athlon Sports

(Photos scourtesy of EMCC)