SMITHFIELD – There was a time, particularly back in 2009 – the season he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a Virginia Tech touchdown against Alabama – when Dyrell Roberts thought plenty about the NFL. That was before two injuries sidelined him for a season-and-a-half and dropped him from pro prospect to afterthought.
But even during the best of times catching passes and running back kicks for the Hokies, Roberts never considered football an end in itself. So he returns to Smithfield with no regrets.
He doesn't have time for them, really. During the day he's in training to become an Isle of Wight County deputy sheriff and in the evening he coaches the receivers and defensive backs at Smithfield High, where he set a rushing record as a senior in 2007 with 2,236 yards and 38 touchdowns.
"Football took me a long way," said Roberts, who joined the Packers' football staff earlier this month. "It got me out of Smithfield, got me to one of the highest levels of college football I could play at and got me an education.
"I had a couple of bad breaks with injuries but that's the name of the game, so if football is completely done I have no hard feelings. I love football, so don't get me wrong, but when I left my hometown I went to get my diploma."
That attitude was drilled into him by his grandmother, Linda P. Brown, who told Roberts when he was injured that she didn't care if he played another down as long as he earned a degree. He received his diploma in Human Development with Brown in attendance in May, less than three months before she died of cancer.
Roberts called her the "glue that held the family together," and credits her and his mom, April Ridley, for keeping him from making the "crazy mistakes" he saw some of his peers make growing up. Now he'd like to "give back" to his hometown as a law enforcement officer and by mentoring Smithfield football players.
Smithfield head coach Clark Harrell says Roberts is off to a great start.
"He relates very well to the kids and they look up to him a lot," Harrell said. "He's very demanding, expects them to work hard and expects a lot out of them.
"He had excellent coaching at Virginia Tech, so he brings a lot of expertise."
Roberts said, "I think the kids relate to me because I'm just leaving the situation they want to go into. They know that I'm going to lead them in the right direction, and will try my best to make sure they have their heads on straight.
"I tell them, `You've got to be a respectable person, so don't let people judge you just off of being a football player. Let them judge you on your currency as a man.
" 'Football is a great game, but at the end of the day use it to better yourselves.' "
Roberts, who caught 96 passes for 1,363 yards at Virginia Tech, will coach two of the Packers' more talented segments. Bruce Cypress and Jamarie Wrenn were All-Bay Rivers District defensive backs a year ago and Cypress and James Green were all-district picks at receiver, where freshman Chris Pierce is a potential star.
Roberts likes their speed, physicality and work ethic, and, after playing in the run-oriented Wing-T during his days at Smithfield, is excited about coaching the talented group in the more wide-open spread option. Most of all, he's just happy to be home, and if pro football never takes him away from Smithfield, so be it.
"In 2009, everything was going good and I thought it was going to be, but God had a different plan," Roberts said of his pro aspirations. "If something comes my way to go to a workout, I'll definitely stay in shape and be up to the challenge.
"But I tell Coach Harrell every day, `I love what you've done with the program and how you've turned it around.' I'm just thankful to be part of it, to come back to the school that helped me get where I wanted to be."