- Kalamazoo Public Schools
2022 Graduates: Tyler Roberts Learned Lessons On and Off the Field
Tyler Roberts has spent years honing his skills on the football field, baseball diamond and basketball court.
But an injury that forced him to the sidelines unexpectedly helped make him an even better athlete.
Roberts, who has played all three sports during his four years in high school, was recently named a finalist for the the Michigan High School Coaches Association’s Rich Tompkins Award, which honors multi-sport athletes who maintain a high GPA and demonstrate community involvement. At Norrix, he’s been the quarterback for the football team, and played third base and shortstop for the baseball team, and power forward for the basketball team. In the fall, he will be attending Hope College, where he has committed to play football and baseball.
Last year, Roberts’ junior year was already difficult because of Covid. When the basketball season started late in January — after several delays — he was in the second week of practice, pivoted, and suddenly found himself flat on his face. He thought he might have been hit from behind.
He went to the emergency room that night, but it wasn’t until two weeks later that an MRI showed a full thickness rupture of his achilles tendon. Surgery followed soon after — along with a warning from his physical therapist and doctor that these injuries usually take a full year to heal.
He managed to make it back to pitching the last two games of the high school season — only four months after surgery — something that astounded his physical therapy team. But that wasn’t the real growth that came from the injury.
With the surgery, he found that for the first time in years, he wasn’t going to have sports to occupy his time. After his surgery, his mother urged him to rest, but for some reason he felt compelled to keep attending basketball practice — and baseball when that started.
“I don’t think I missed a practice or a game all season long. I was riding around on my one-legged scooter at the games,” he said. “That experience benefited me more than staying home would have.
“It built my character. I realized things I wouldn’t have realized if I’d been playing the sport. I saw different aspects of how it all came together. And I really saw the camaraderie of your teammates and how you can feed off of one another. I could be there to be an outlet for people or give energy to a teammate. I fell in love with that feeling. I couldn’t stop.”
Steve Verduzco, who was Roberts’ Milwood Little League and Michigan Rebels travel league coach, said it was awful to see Roberts get injured.
“He’d worked so hard and was going to have great basketball and baseball seasons,” Verduzco said. “But he once again stepped up for his teammates. He led from afar. He didn’t have to be on the field to help his teammates get better.”
Before the tear, Roberts said he wasn’t a very vocal leader. He chose to lead by example.
“But the tear forced me to be more vocal, to talk to everyone more. I was able to communicate better with my teammates, tell them when they were wrong — or when they were right and I was wrong. It was a blessing in disguise to go through all of that and come out the other side that much better.”
The injury may have helped him grow as a leader, but he’s always had those skills within him, Verduzco said.
“At a young age, Ty was a dominant player. He was bigger and more athletic than other kids his age,” Verduzco said. “But he was different. He was confident, but humble. He was the kind of kid who raised the level of play of his teammates by setting a great example — he led with both his actions and his words.
“To see the young man that he’s turned into makes my heart full.”
Roberts is the son of Debra Lenz and Carl Roberts. His older brother Drew Roberts also attended Norrix and is now a student at Michigan State University.
All three of them — along with his long-time girlfriend Neida Jaimes —have been key to his success, he said. His brother pushed him to always do more and do better to improve his opportunities; his mother is his top supporter in everything; his father, he laughs, supports in a different way.
“He’s the one who when I come home, I don’t get smiles from. He’s the one that made me the most coachable. That’s a huge thing nowadays with attitudes from players. He drives me to be open to anything even if it’s uncomfortable or I’m not sure what I’m doing. He makes me feel like I can do anything.”
Roberts attended Greenwood and Milwood elementary schools, and Milwood Magnet School before Norrix. At Norrix, the National Honor Society member’s activities have been dominated by sports. Three sports, three seasons, four years.
“I feel like I’m better at baseball than football. I love baseball but it’s very slow-paced. With football, in part because I’m the quarterback, I’m constantly doing something. It requires a different level of intensity and competitiveness.”
Maybe because he had a big brother and maybe because he’s played sports for as long as he can remember, but competitiveness is part of his character, he said.
“I think having a challenge is the best thing for a person,” Roberts said. “It pushes you beyond what you think you can do. I think it’s a powerful thing to have a goal, to acknowledge it, and to pursue it.
“I don’t think it’s the best quality I have. I like to always be right. Mistakes happen. But I like to be the best at anything I can do. Anything I try, I try to do to the best of my ability. I don’t see a reason why you’d go out and do something lackadaisical or give half your effort. That’s pointless to me.”