Roberts helped put football on map

SFU Hall of Fame

Note: This is the second in a series of profiles of 2019 Saint Francis University Hall of Fame inductees. The induction ceremony is scheduled for July 26:

LORETTO — According to current SFU head football coach Chris Villarrial, Jay Roberts helped put Saint Francis football on the map.

“He played in a time that didn’t have social media or recruiting services, but Jay was still able to garner enough attention to get a few professional football contracts through his play on the field,” Villarrial said.

Roberts rushed for 3,824 yards during his four-year Saint Francis career and was a two-time club Football All-American.

A two-time Team Offensive Player of the Year, Roberts served as co-captain as a senior, leading his team to a 7-1 record while rushing for 1,237 yards. His average of 154.6 yards per game led the nation in all of club football.

One of the seven wins during his senior season came in bizarre fashion. Saint Francis, sporting just one loss on the season, was scheduled to play at Niagara on a Saturday. The team hopped on the bus and headed up North, arriving on campus on Friday at 6 p.m. to a crowded football field.

Former head coach Art Martynuska made the team wait on the bus while he went to check on the commotion before returning with shocking news; there had been a scheduled discrepancy and the game would start in one hour.

Roberts and his teammates overcame a slow start and lack of preparation to turn a 9-6 halftime deficit into a 16-9 win thanks to a second half Roberts touchdown. The team celebrated its victory by using Saturday’s day off to visit the Falls, an experience Roberts and his teammates will always cherish.

Roberts football career wasn’t quite finished as he was pleasantly surprised to receive invites to try-out for the Philadelphia Bell, Jacksonville Sharks and Birmingham Americans of the World Football League.

The WFL was a hot commodity at the time with former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler and Super Bowl winning members of the Miami Dolphins, Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield and Jim Kiick spurning the NFL in favor of the up-and-coming WFL.

Roberts’ first tryout was with the Philadelphia Bell and could have been short-lived.

With a $17,000 contract on the line, head coach Ron Waller, the interim coach of the San Diego Chargers of the NFL the previous season, made one thing crystal clear; to make the team as a running back you had to run the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds or less.

“I remember being lined up for the 40-yard dash next to the former running back at Temple University,” recalled Roberts. “Waller came over to me and asked me what school I was from and when I told him Saint Francis he laughed and said that Saint Francis was a basketball school.”

Roberts and the Temple running back each ran their 40s but only one survived the cut — Jay Roberts from Saint Francis College.

Roberts still holds his signed copies of his professional contracts with Philadelphia and Jackson­ville. Unfortunately, the league folded due to a myriad of financial issues before he could play in a game.

Nonetheless, Roberts journey helped put Saint Francis on the map and started its transition from a club sport to an NCAA-affiliated member.

Powers works for Saint Francis University.