Noah Roberts always remembers the number 140.
A grin spreads across his face when he recites the three digits. At 5 years old, Roberts routinely punched them into the TV remote, finding the channel where he could watch sports highlights. Before he could play football, years before he experienced the exhilaration of scoring a touchdown in a big Friday game, Roberts was a kindergartener who regularly tuned into “SportsCenter” on ESPN.
“From when I was little, just watching it really made me fall in love with it,” Roberts said.
During the past Friday, Roberts was creating his own highlight plays.
Roberts, a junior on the Stillwater High football team, accumulated a game-high 153 rushing yards, including a 1-yard run into the end zone. In his breakout varsity game, Roberts helped the Pioneers start their season with a 30-20 road victory against Edmond Santa Fe.
His parents, grandparents and younger sister watched from the stands, supporting him as junior quarterback Gage Gundy continued to hand the ball to Roberts in the second half. Rachel Roberts, his mom, said she was “on pins and needles” as her son carried the ball and found gaps in the Santa Fe defense.
“I knew if he just got that opportunity, he’d show what he was made of, so it was nice to see,” Rachel said. “It was very exciting.”
Although Roberts didn’t need much time to make his mark as a running back this season, it’s not the only position he plays. He sometimes shifts to slot receiver, and on defense, Roberts is a nickelback.
Despite his lack of experience in a no-huddle system until last year, Roberts swiftly adapted to playing three new positions.
As a sophomore, Roberts moved to Stillwater from Pawnee, where he was a quarterback and free safety. At his former school, Roberts grew accustomed to preparing for every play during game stoppage, but the pace picked up when he became a Pioneer. Suddenly, he had to look to the sideline for signals and memorize the routes that corresponded with single code words.
“Probably that, coming in, was the hardest thing to learn, all the plays from the sideline, just seeing the signal on the sideline,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he was nervous when he arrived at Stillwater, but he maintained composure. Tucker Barnard, his coach, said Roberts never showed signs of difficulty with adjusting to the no-huddle offense. As Roberts quickly befriended several teammates his age – Gundy, Ondre Long and Cameron Johnson – he grew more comfortable with playing for the Pioneers.
“He kind of stood out to us pretty quick when he moved here,” Barnard said. “We didn’t know maybe exactly where he was gonna fit, but you could tell pretty early he was gonna have a place. We just needed to find out what it was.”
Although the Pioneers continue to move Roberts around the field, he is proving he can thrive in one particular role, stepping up alongside Holden Thompson as the Pioneers need new star rushers in the absence of record-holder Qwontrel Walker.
For Roberts, Friday night was a chance to bring his childhood dream to life, an opportunity to channel his lifelong love for football.
Although Rachel said she wouldn’t let him play until sixth grade, keeping him safe and giving him time to grow, Roberts always yearned to be on the field.
Growing up only a short drive away from Oklahoma State’s campus, he found inspiration in 2010s standouts such as Justin Blackmon, Brandon Weeden and Emmanuel Ogbah. As a kid, he sported his OSU helmet during games, taking “eat, sleep and breathe football” to a new level – he even wore it during mealtime, scooping bites of macaroni and cheese through his facemask as he watched his football role models.
Now, Roberts has plenty of time to prepare for his own potential college athletic career, and he’s ready to start, going through the early stages of piecing together highlight tape and getting it in front of recruiters.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time,” Roberts said. “And I just want to be able to not only help my team but also get a chance to have schools look at me for my talent, so it’s pretty interesting. … It’s still a learning process for me.”
He could have some opportunities to add to his reel when the Pioneers (1-0) host Mustang at 7 p.m. Saturday. And regardless of where Roberts ends up on the field, Barnard can count on Roberts’ commitment to the game he loves – the same dedication he showed as the 5-year-old fan eager to watch “SportsCenter” each day.
“He’s a really hard worker, great work ethic,” Barnard said. “He’s an energy guy, just always gives you everything that he’s got.”
Follow News Press sports reporter Hallie Hart on Twitter @halliehart for live updates from Stillwater High football games.