Drew Roberts is a rarity in high school wrestling.
He’s a two-fer. Two Roberts for the price of one.
The sophomore 126-pounder is rapidly making a name for himself in his first season wrestling at University High.
“He’s already beaten six state champions so far this season,” U-Hi coach Don Owen said.
It’s not every day that a defending state champion walks through your front doors and pulls on a singlet. But that’s who Drew Roberts is after winning the 113-pound state championship as a freshman at Crescent Valley High in Corvallis, Oregon.
Showing up with Drew is his father, University wrestling legend Kevin Roberts, who spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach at Oregon State after serving stints as an assistant at North Idaho College and Wyoming. He’s now assisting in the U-Hi wrestling room.
The elder Roberts’ tenure at Oregon State, where he was the associate head coach, ended contentiously and there is a pending lawsuit regarding his termination.
Kevin Roberts was the first Don Owen-coached Titan to win a state championship, taking a 115-pound title in 1991 and became an All-American at the University of Oregon. His brothers were repeat state champions. Dusty Roberts won twice for U-Hi, and Andy Roberts three times.
The younger Drew Roberts has already added to the family legend with one state title, with the potential ahead to top his uncle Andy.
So far in his first season at U-Hi, Roberts is fresh off a win at the Tri-State tournament in Coeur d’Alene. While taking a few days off from the pressures of making weight for the holidays, he said he’s ready for the tournament and dual-meet schedule ahead.
“It’s pretty nice to have an afternoon off,” he said. “But I’m being a little responsible. When it comes to having a Christmas cookie or my grandma’s cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, yeah, I’m indulging a little.
“But at the same time, I always try to eat healthy. And I still get my morning run in every day because I feel I wrestle better when I’m running.”
Roberts is enjoying a healthy start to his season for the first time since arriving in high school.
“Two years ago, in April, I fractured the L-5 vertebra in my back wrestling at nationals,” he said. “I dealt with it my eighth-grade summer. I’d always had some level of back pain and a couple doctors said it was just me growing. One suggested I get an MRI. It was a long process.”
Another doctor finally ordered a CAT scan, and that procedure revealed two fractures of his vertebra.
“There was a fracture on the left side and another on the right side,” Roberts said. “The doctor didn’t want me to wrestle at all for four months so that it could heal.”
Roberts started his high school career on the sideline. He still was in the practice room every day. He was still in the weight room getting himself ready to wrestle or riding a stationary bike on the sidelines while his teammates practiced moves.
“It was difficult,” he said. “On Dec. 31, I took part in my first practice. Getting back and getting into the flow of things was a challenge. It made for a short season, and I missed out on some great competition and great tournaments. But I made it to state.”
Roberts said he feels better this season than at any time in recent memory. Hours and hours of physical therapy and core training have helped get him back on the mat full-time.
Aside from the normal wear-and-tear of a high school wrestling season, he insists he is pain-free for the first time in years.
“It’s been a really painful process,” he said. “A year ago, I was definitely in a lot of pain. It hurt really bad. There were times when I couldn’t sleep at night.
“It was something that I really had to face because it’s something that could affect me for the rest of my life.”
Coming from a family with a long and rich family history in the sport is something Roberts said he’s been well-aware of for as long as he can remember.
But taking up the sport was his own idea.
“My dad never pushed me at all towards wrestling – in fact he kind of steered me away from wrestling,” he said. “But I grew up in wrestling rooms. My dad would take me to practice with him, and wrestlers would be my babysitters. From first grade on, after school I would be in a wrestling room with him.
“My dad never coached me when I was younger.”
In fact, he said, it took him a few tries to get his dad’s permission to cut weight as a youngster.
“He didn’t want me to get into that whole thing too early,” he said. “He wanted to make sure I was ready for all of that.”
At first, Roberts said, he was good, but not at the top levels. Then, once he got into the sixth grade, his interest in wrestling took root and his love for the sport blossomed.
“I had to go ask my dad to coach me,” Roberts said. “He told me that he would always be there to help me, but that I would have to ask.”
As it stands now, Drew Roberts isn’t the only sibling in love with wrestling and asking for help.
“I have two sisters,” he explained. “One of them is really into gymnastics. We tried to get my other sister interested in gymnastics, too, but nope. She’s always wanted to wrestle, and she got permission to turn out. She loves it. She’s in the sixth grade.”