LANSING — One day a few years ago, TF South senior Willie Roberts was watching TV and some highlights of longtime NFL running back Marshawn Lynch came on.
"It made me want to play running back," Roberts said. "So I was begging my dad to get me into football."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Roberts started playing youth football as a sixth-grader and spent the last three high school seasons at Bloom. He transferred to South before this season and has made an immediate impact on both sides of the ball.
Starting at wide receiver and cornerback, the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder has nine catches for a team-high 178 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with 11 tackles. Throw in his punt and kickoff returns, and Roberts is averaging 18.8 yards on 12 touches for TF South (2-1).
South already was returning a talented group of receivers including Ethan Pryor, Charles Miles and Brandon Woods. Adding Roberts to the mix just gave opposing defenses more to think about.
"He definitely brings energy," quarterback Jacob Urdiales said. "Our team has speed, but having another speed guy willing to catch the ball — and he's shifty with his movement — it's like a dream."
Roberts is so fast, Urdiales had to change his passes to make sure the pair connected.
"Honestly, I had to adjust the way I threw to him," Urdiales said. "He was faster (than expected); when I was throwing, it would always be behind him. 'All right, now I've got to adjust myself.'
"And as you see in the games, we were just connecting."
South coach Bob Padjen, meanwhile, could see early on his team would have another big-play option in Roberts.
"He's hard to get if you don't get him right away," Padjen said. "He's fast in space and very elusive."
Roberts also is exceeding expectations.
"We didn't expect him to play both ways," Padjen said. "We didn't really know what we were getting. He's a pleasant surprise. He's a hard worker. He's earned a spot on defense and he's definitely earned a spot on offense."
Roberts' role has narrowed down at South after he played all over the field for Bloom: quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back. He's also less in the spotlight at South, where running back Ernest Temple already has piled up 446 rushing yards and 626 all-purpose yards in only three games.
"Coming from a team and being a key player (where) I have a lot of people on me and eyes on me — coming to a team where I have a good running back to take pressure off the receivers, it gives me an opportunity to do what I've been doing," Roberts said. "I just have to take advantage every time the ball goes in the air for me."
That's been his mantra from the beginning. Roberts remembers scoring three touchdowns in his first youth game.
The individual numbers are nice, and likely will get Roberts increasingly more attention. But they're not his main focus.
"I want to win a (conference) championship," he said. "And beat the teams I hear they've been struggling with the past (few) years."
Adding Roberts to the mix can only make those goals more attainable.