After losing his father as a sophomore in high school, Waylon Roberson fell into a place many young people never recover from.
Already standing six-feet, 280-pounds at 15-years old, his dream of playing defensive line at a Division I program started to diminish due to bad circumstances in his family and community. His morale was non-existent, his grades began to fall, and as a senior, Waylon played out of position to sacrifice for his Midland High team in Texas.
Upon high school graduation, Waylon found himself at New Mexico Military Institute, a Junior College in Roswell, with a chip on his shoulder and looking for that opportunity he once dreamt. He worked hard to improve academically, the main reasons he didn’t receive his Division I dream, and his improvements caught the eye of a school looking for someone his size to beef up their defensive line.
Nine hundred miles east in Jonesboro, Arkansas, coaches were just as desperate to find that opportunity to change their fortunes, as well.
A season ago, the Arkansas State Red Wolves were undersized, underperforming and decimated by injuries along their defensive line. An immediate change needed to happen in an attempt to salvage their season and position them for better ball in the future. An unconventional, mid-season recruiting trip to New Mexico turned out to be just what the program would need.
“We had to change our whole focus in recruiting,” said Arkansas State Head Coach Blake Anderson. “We had to find interior defensive linemen who could help us hold up in this [Sun Belt] conference.”
Anderson rolled the dice on an unheard of mid-season JUCO transfer that would pay dividends in more ways than one.
On Waylon’s recruiting trip to Arkansas State, he fell in love with not only the opportunity to play Division I football, but also to embrace the father-like figure that Coach Anderson would play in his life.
“It felt like a place I could come in and succeed,” said Roberson. “Coach Anderson made me feel like he could help me develop into who I wanted to become – as a player and as a man.”
Arkansas State has turned its defense from worst-to-first, in conference, according to Coach Anderson. The Red Wolves have gone from a 7-6 record in 2014, to this year’s improvement to 9-3, overall. A major reason for that change is not only Waylon’s ability to control the line of scrimmage, but his character and work ethic beyond the football field.
“Waylon’s made good decisions while down here,” said Coach Anderson. “I do think, academically, it doesn’t come easy for him. But he battles everyday, and continues to succeed. That’s why we took a chance on him.”
Looking ahead, Roberson has one year left of eligibility for the Red Wolves and plans to get into the marketing field upon receiving his diploma. But as he continues to be a key-cog in the Red Wolves’ success, the confirmation of his coach’s support continues to remind him of family.
“It just means I’m doing the right thing,” said Waylon. “He’s keeping the things going that my mother taught me: just do what you have to do to, to make it through.”