Jelani Roberts remembers watching Northwestern's Venric Mark a couple years ago. The speedy three-star receiver who will be a senior at Gilman this fall saw how Mark torched his opponents for more than 1,300 rushing yards and more than 600 combined return yards in 2012, scoring 14 total touchdowns.
Most of all, it was Mark’s size that drew Roberts to Northwestern’s All-American return man. At 5-feet-8 and 175 pounds, Mark was by no means an intimidating figure, but he continued to produce highlight-reel worthy plays on the field.
“What really got me interested in Northwestern football was seeing people my size doing well,” Roberts said. “That’s the thing I can point to that really got me interested.”
THis week, Roberts orally committed to Northwestern as part of its 2015 recruiting class. He chose the Wildcats over Boston College, Navy and Harvard, among other schools.
Roberts, who’s just 5-8, 160 pounds said plenty of things contributed to his choice to become a Wildcat. He pointed to the facilities and the campus and that he’ll get to play against the always-tough Big Ten Conference.
Most importantly, though, he said Northwestern will provide him with a top-notch education.
“All of those things really contributed to helping me commit,” said Roberts, who carries a 3.9 grade-point average at Gilman. “And I really wanted to play football at the highest level.”
During a recent visit to Northwestern, Roberts said he talked with receivers coach Dennis Springer about how his skill set might fit into the Wildcats' offense.
Roberts has been clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash and has run the shuttle drill in 4.25 seconds. He’s also posted a 41-inch vertical leap.
Roberts is ranked among the top-35 players at any position in the state, according to Rivals.com.
“He’s probably the fastest kid we’ve ever had,” said Gilman assistant football coach Henry Russell. “He’s one of those guys where once you see [the speed], you know he’s a threat.”
Roberts’ speed extended off the field, too. He’s won the 100- and 200-meter MIAA track and field titles each of the past two years.
“But he’s a football player, too,” Russell said. “Once we saw his speed, we wondered if he was a track kid playing football or a football kid running track. And he’s definitely a football kid. Our job was just finding different ways to get him the ball so he could stretch the field and use his speed.”
Roberts helped lead Gilman to a 7-3 record this past season. He said he’s excited about his commitment to Northwestern.
“It was definitely a school I had been interested in for a long time,” Roberts said.