By Bill Renje
HAMPTON, Ga. — In sports as in life, words meant to uplift and inspire carry a lot more impact when the example being set is a positive one.
When the person speaking those words is the real deal — genuine and authentic in how they carry themselves, words can be expressed by leaders in many forms.
There are quiet leaders. The kind of athletes who lead by example. Then there’s the “rah-rah” style — players who fire up their teammates with words that are often emotionally charged.
And then there’s Daniel Roberts. An unassuming leader who strives to choose the right words as well as the right times to express them.
Roberts, Hampton High School’s starting quarterback and track, is the kind of young man who doesn’t say much, but what he says has an impact. While notably more of a quiet leader, his words when spoken have a way of leaving a mark because of the way he carries himself.
Last week, he was seen and heard on the outskirts of the lunchroom gently dispensing advice to a young lady who was on the way to in-school suspension. She gently schooled her on the choices of the types of friends she’s surrounding herself with and the negative impact on her decision making.
It was obvious from the young lady’s expression and body language that the peer-to-peer dialogue was having more of a positive impact than the usual lecture adults give young people about the company they keep.
“I try to be an example for other kids who I know don’t have a lot at home”, Roberts said. “If they’re not around Christians a lot, then I just try to be there for them.”
Football teammate Devon Berry who, along with Roberts, will help lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) at Hampton next year looks up to Roberts as a leader and friend.
“When I first saw Daniel we were actually in the weight room, getting ready for football season and I just kind of saw a leadership attitude,” Berry said. “He’s different from other kids. I noticed he didn’t cuss, and I thought ‘Oh, this dude must be a Christian.’ And the more I saw him around, saw him with his girlfriend, the more I thought ‘This dude right here is a great role model and a leader.’”
One thing Roberts won’t do — at least without a lot of prompting — is talk much about himself. He doesn’t carry himself on campus with a sense of entitlement because he’s the starting quarterback. He describes himself as an old person on the inside, with music interests like ‘80s R&B, funk and pop musicians like Carl Carlton, Dazz Band, Michael Jackson and Prince.
Athletically, he has role models like every young athlete.
“I like (track and field athletes) Christian Taylor and Will Claye,” Roberts said. “Especially Will Claye because he’s a Christian and he’s pretty vocal about it, even though he’s a famous triple jumper on the USA team. I look up to him.”
Hornets head football coach Chad Ashley discussed Roberts’ leadership role for a football program heading into just its second year of competition.
“He’s a positive young man that’s doing the right thing in the classroom and off the field,” Ashley said. “He has strong family support as well, and is definitely a role model for what you would want in a student athlete.
“Even in our first football season with as long as some Friday nights could have been, he never got down, stayed positive the whole time and stayed positive with his teammates.”
You also wouldn’t know from talking to him that the soft spoken Roberts is an all-state track athlete. He won best performance at state in the 110 & 300 meter hurdles, first place in the triple jump and was high point champion. As a result of his exploits, he is drawing interest from SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 schools.
As Ashley mentioned, Roberts has been brought up with strong family support. His father Stephen is on staff at Hampton, coaching football and track, himself a high school track athlete and football standout, having played tight end for West Georgia during its 1982 national championship run.
Daniel is the fifth of six children for Stephen and his wife Melissa. They’ve tried to lay a foundation of faith and family, and have been proud of Daniel for his focus and determination.
“What makes me most proud of him is his walk with Christ,” said Stephen Roberts. “We were at a Zaxby’s eating after a track meet last year. I was sitting at a booth with some coaches and parents, and Daniel was sitting with some students. When Daniel went over to a kid who was sitting by himself. Daniel started talking to him and another kid said, ‘Daniel, you can’t save everybody.’
“That made me real proud of him, because even though he’s not real vocal, he’s sharing his faith and they know who he is.”
But don’t mistake that quietness for a lack of ambition or intensity in doing what he does.
“He sets goals and has done that since he was a kid,” Stephen Roberts added. “He’s saying he’s going to be in the 2016 Olympics and people are saying, ‘Well I don’t know, that might be tough coming out of high school.’ But with his work ethic and his faith in God, I don’t doubt that he can do what he says.”
Speaking of goals, the summer will be a busy one for Roberts. He’s up for the USA Today ‘Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year’ for Georgia, and also the Atlanta Track Club Track Athlete of the Year award. In June, he’ll be running in the 110 hurdles at the New Balance Nationals at North Carolina A&T.
From there, he’s got aspirations to compete for Team USA in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Although some may consider him a long shot at this point, nobody who knows Daniel would be surprised to ultimately see him reach those goals.
Bill is on staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a contributing writer for thecrescentbuzz.com and a Deacon at Eagles Landing FBC in McDonough, GA. He lives in Locust Grove with his wife Amy and their three children. You can follow Bill on Facebook, Twitter @billrenje and learn more about him at his website www.achosenbullet.com.