A chance in the spotlight is hard to come by for any college athlete. But it took just one play for Nevada tight end Reagan Roberson to have his moment.
Roberson hauled in an 11-yard touchdown reception to help the Wolf Pack win the Arizona Bowl 16-13 over the Arkansas State Red Wolves last season.
His game-winning catch helped Nevada grab its first bowl game victory since 2015, but his path to the end zone emulates a bumpy collegiate journey. When Roberson caught the ball at the 9 yard line, he broke a tackle at the 6 and hurdled over a Red Wolves defensive back at the 2-yard mark before diving toward the pylon for the score.
[pullquote]That catch really was the tipping point of my career.”[/pullquote]Roberson powered through Arkansas State defenders on his way for a touchdown, similar to his countless obstacles just to make the team as a walk-on in 2017. He made his mark on the field and was awarded a scholarship at the start of the 2018 season by head coach Jay Norvell.
“It was so important to me and something I’ll really cherish,” he said. “I’ve always hoped for a moment like that to happen, something I’ve always dreamed of. So when I scored on that play, words can’t really describe what was going on.”
Roberson’s postseason heroics helped represent his hometown. The Gardnerville, Nevada, native played football, track and field and basketball at Douglas High School. His tenure with the Wolf Pack kept his local roots intact.
“Being a hometown kid, it’s just great to represent my school the best I can,” he said. “Douglas County and the Gardnerville area have really molded me into the man I am today.”
Entering his junior year, Roberson is eager to build off his Arizona Bowl performance. He earned the starting tight end spot this season with the departure of senior Trae Carter-Wells.
His clutch catch helped him build confidence.
“It gave me a lot of stability within my role down the road,” he said. “That catch really was the tipping point of my career thus far. I was trading reps on the field with other guys and it was tough. Making that play really opened some eyes and told myself and everybody else that I’m here to stay and I can make an impact. “
Roberson doesn’t stuff the stat sheet — he has just 4 receiving yards on the year — but his impact on the field is immeasurable. He gets to the second level of the defense and opens up rushing lanes for Wolf Pack running backs.
His sturdy 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame helps add another physical element to the offensive line. But Roberson has the versatility to get free in the open field and make a contested catch.
“I want to keep that tradition of hard-nosed, tough style of play,” he said. “It’s not all about making the fancy catches, it’s about getting dirty and accomplishing what my coaches and teammates need from me.”
Norvell asks a lot from the tight end position with blocking and receiving, and Roberson’s dual-threat ability fits the bill.
“Not everybody is cut out for what they do,” Norvell said. “They’re in the trenches banging heads one play and the next play they could be running a 10-yard out route and getting hit in the ribs. So they’re cut from a different cloth and you need a different mindset to play that position.”
During his tenure with the Douglas Tigers, Roberson was named all-league as a linebacker and tight end. He was named the Sierra League Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.
Despite his accolades, Roberson learned an important lesson in his senior year. A shoulder injury sidelined him for five games. From that moment on, he made an effort to play every game like it was his last.
“I learned my lesson in high school,” he said. “That injury really taught me some lessons to never take this game for granted and play each game with your heart in it.”
Roberson has kept that same mindset with Nevada thus far. He lined up with the special teams unit for most of his freshman year. By the time he saw the field as a tight end last season, he had just three catches for 25 yards.
But his willingness to make an impact got Norvell’s attention, and he earned the starting job as a result.
“He’s just a guy who loves the game,” he said. “He wants to leave it all out there and I’m impressed by how far he’s gotten.”
Under Norvell, Roberson has blossomed into a complete player. With eight games left in the regular season, the junior tight end can serve as a security blanket for Nevada’s quarterback group. No matter where he lines up, Roberson plays every snap with extra effort. It’s the only way he knows how.
“I make sure I play with everything I have.” he said. “Any play can be your last, so it’s important for me to take advantage of any opportunity I’ve got. We’ve got a great group of guys who will do anything for each other and I’m the same way.”
Up next: Nevada (3-1) hosts the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (3-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a Mountain West Conference game in Mackay Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN2. The Wolf Pack leads the series 14-9. It will be the conference opener for both teams. Da ‘Bows have victories this season against two Pac-12 schools. Hawaii beat Arizona 45-38 on Oregon State 31-28 on Sept. 7. They lost at Washington 52-20 on Sept. 14. Last Saturday, Hawaii won at home against Central Arkansas, a member of the Southland Conference, 35-16.
— Isaiah Burrows