The road to Pitt for Gabe Roberts has been brief, and already in his first spring, is in contention for a starting job.
It all started last January, when Roberts came to Pittsburgh for an unofficial visit just weeks after Paul Chryst and his staff were in place.
At the time, Roberts was looking at Wisconsin, going there as a preferred walk-on. Then, Pittsburgh came calling.
"I was going to Wisconsin, to walk on there," Roberts said. "A week and a half, (offensive line) coach (Bob) Bostad called me up and said, "hey, why don't you come up to Pittsburgh, and check it out up here. I came out here, I liked it and decided to go."
Roberts joined local standout Adam Bisnowaty as the only freshmen offensive line signees in Chryst's first class. Bisnowaty is pretty much a lock to be the starting left tackle against Florida State on September 2. Roberts, however, had a slight setback after the Virginia Tech game. Even though he was heading for a redshirt, he injured his left shoulder that week, which would sideline him from any practicing.
He did make the bowl trip, and even then he began snapping with the quarterbacks. This spring, Chryst moved him to center where he's competing with Artie Rowell for the starting job at center.
“They (the coaches) came to me with it," Roberts added. "I'm privileged to have them do that as my easiest way to get a starting spot. I feel pretty privileged to have that. But they said, ‘You know what? You’re injured.’ —because I had that (shoulder) surgery last year — ‘I want you to snap it every day.’ While everybody was practicing for the bowl game, I was just snapping to the quarterbacks, Tino (Sunseri) and Tom (Savage) and Chad (Voytik). So that was like the hardest thing to get going, getting all of my shotgun snaps down. Like in my earlier practices, I rolled a few back, but I’m good at getting them down now.”
While Chryst isn't naming any starters yet, he seems pretty pleased with the position switch, and pretty pleased with Roberts' progress.
“I think last week he made some progress," Chryst said. "He’s getting tested by two pretty good guys (defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Tyrone Ezell) when we do ones against ones. I thought he made some strides last week and there’s a lot to both his spot and O-line play. He was more of a tackle in high school but he’s taken to it. I’m also pleased with what Artie (Rowell) has been doing. There’s a guy that just works every day. Certainly I’m glad it’s spring and not fall, but I like the direction we’re going with those guys.”
Roberts says it's still adjusting. He relies on the two experienced veterans of the group--conveniently-placed guards Cory King and Matt Rotheram. Also, working with Bisnowaty and converted offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings, he already seems to have a chemistry with them, too.
"If I mess up a call, the guards--Cory or Roth--they know what I meant to say," Roberts said. "If Adam sees something or T.J. sees something…sees anything, they give me a call. They tell me, ‘Hey, there’s somebody coming this way,’ so I can rearrange it.”
He may have been a last-minute addition, but after checking out Pitt and looking away from the team he grew up cheering for, not even a shoulder surgery or a position switch can slow him down.
"It was a very difficult decision, I was a big Badger fan growing up," Roberts said "I didn't like the new o-line coach (Mike Markuson) as much, then he got fired a couple weeks (into the season). I guess it was a good decision on my part.
"Who knows what could have have happened there. I could have got injured there, and they would have not offered me a scholarship. Here, s my best bet; getting a scholarship and some early playing time."