Hurdles in life come in different sizes.
For Southeast Missouri’s Paul McRoberts, his first huge hurdle made dealing with his second hurdle a little easier.
When he was in high school, McRoberts, a 6-3 point guard from Soldan (Mo.) High, was being recruited by Missouri. The 2011-12 Tigers won the Big XII tournament, were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and on their way to 33 wins. McRoberts though, despite leading Soldan to the Missouri Class 4A state title the previous year, fell off Missouri’s recruiting radar. Mizzou head coach Mike Anderson left for Arkansas. No one on Frank Haith’s incoming staff contacted McRoberts. No other offers were forthcoming.
For many 18 year olds, that would be devastating. But for McRoberts, he had overcome a much larger hurdle nine years before growing up in St. Louis when his father died of a heart attack. Luckily for McRoberts, his oldest brother, Leonard Triplett, stepped in to become his father figure. Sports became an integral part of their relationship.
“My grandfather’s house was right across the street from our house,” McRoberts said. “He had a hoop in the backyard. (Leonard) and I used to play back there all the time.”
Occasionally McRoberts turned a little mischievous and improvised if he wasn’t in his grandfather’s backyard.
“There was a corner convenience store called Lucky’s down the block,” McRoberts recalled. “They sold newspapers, soda, snacks. Above the store was an (apartment) that had a (window) air conditioner. We used to shoot the ball trying to hit (the top) of the air conditioner. That was fun.”
McRoberts suited up each fall for the Soldan’s football team but basketball was his primary interest. One summer McRoberts decided he wanted to hang up his shoulder pads. In his mind he was done with football, wanting to concentrate on basketball.
“Leonard told me I was playing football,” McRoberts recalled. “Even though I told him I didn't want to, it didn't matter. I didn't have a choice; he made me play.”
Keeping his little brother in football though turned out to be critical for his future. Had McRoberts dropped football, no desirable scholarship offers would have been on the table for him. Instead colleges had an eye on McRoberts’ ability on the gridiron. He was the leading wide receiver in the St. Louis metro area his senior year with 64 catches, 1,607 yards and 23 touchdowns. Southeast Missouri State liked what they saw and offered him a scholarship.
As a true freshman he made an immediate impact as the Redhawks’ third-leading receiver. His sophomore year he bumped up to leading receiver. McRoberts showed his ability to stretch the field as a deep threat. Of his 44 catches, seven were of 20 yards or more. Last season McRoberts was team captain. Despite a foot injury that kept him out five weeks, he still made First-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference. With 44 receptions, McRoberts averaged 16 yards a catch and 100 receiving yards a game in seven games.
Two weeks after the Redhawks concluded the 2014 season, McRoberts slipped on another jersey. The No.2 SEMO basketball jersey was a good fit. Redhawk football coach Tom Matukewicz allowed the former high school hoop star to play. McRoberts played in SEMO’s last 13 games of the season and averaged 6 points a game at guard.
This year football opponents have their radar locked on a healthy McRoberts. He was an FCS Preseason All-American and has heard some NFL draft interest. He is five touchdowns short of breaking the SEMO career record of 26.
“I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I am,” McRoberts said. “I’m blessed. I think about my father all the time. I know that he is looking down on me and smiling.”
Above: Video courtesy Southeast Missouri State Athletics