Brad Roberts had no idea that after he visited the White House, he would be invited to the Washington Commanders minicamp the next day. It all began for the Air Force Academy running back and Ralston Valley High School alum on April 28. Now, the Arvada native will extend his stay in Washington, D.C., as he tries to make the official 53-man roster.
Roberts led the entire NCAA in rushing with a whopping 1,728 yards in 2022. Pro Football Focus ranked Roberts as the 10th highest-graded college running back in the nation with an overall score of 90.1. Roberts became the all-time leader for carries (345) and 100+ yard rushing games (11) for Air Force last season.
That, in large part, helped the Falcons to a 10-3 record in a season that resulted in hoisting the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, awarded by President Biden to the winner of the college football series between the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, and U.S. Air Force Academy each year. The last time the Air Force had the honor was 2016.
It’s been a whirlwind few days, but overall, Roberts feels blessed and ready to get to work, despite not hearing his name called in the NFL Draft.
“Honestly, I had actually no idea [I would be invited to Washington’s minicamp],” Roberts said. “The teams that I talked to throughout the process… the Commanders were not one of them. I’m very happy with where I am, but it was not exactly where I thought I was going to be.”
Going undrafted is a humbling and disappointing experience, Roberts said, especially after the year he had. But that doesn’t stop fueling the discipline and hard work that got him to this point. In fact, it makes it burn hotter.
Now, he’s headed back to Washington to prove he deserves a spot on an NFL roster. As soon as the Falcons’ victory in their bowl game against Baylor ended in January, Roberts said he got to work training for the NFL.
Still riding the high from the White House visit, Roberts said the past week has been surreal. He was fortunate enough to be placed directly next to the president in the East Room, and even shook his hand as the team presented Biden with an honorary jersey.
Biden stated at the ceremony, "You can’t talk about the service academies without talking about duty, teamwork, service, and excellence. That’s all about you.”
At that moment, Roberts was a long way from Arvada. Just yesterday, it seems, he was lacing up his high school cleats for the Mustangs. But no matter what level of football Roberts is playing, he’s a machine on the ground.
In high school, he rushed for 1,352 yards, notching 20 touchdowns on the ground, according to MaxPreps. He also caught for 278 yards and three more touchdowns. He credits the time at Ralston Valley as essential to the success he’s seeing now. The transition to the Air Force was a relatively easy one, he explained, thanks to former coach Matt Loyd’s military experience and approach to football. Loyd now coaches at Frederick High School.
“Ralston Valley just had such a good bond [between] the coaches and players on the team. That definitely transitioned my mind to getting into this military, kind of hard-working mindset,” Roberts said. “That really prepared me for Air Force, which I’m very, very grateful for. I knew I was good enough in high school to compete at the D1 level, and luckily I was given the chance to play fairly early in my career at Air Force and never looked back. It was just an unreal experience leading up the whole way through Ralston Valley. It prepared me really well.”
Now, he’s hoping to ride that military toughness and determination to the next level. He’ll hit the ground running at Washington’s minicamp this weekend, and do what he’s always done to achieve success: compete with tenacity.
For more on Roberts and his White House experience, NFL journey, and memories of Ralston Valley, check out my Q&A with him below.
What goes into the process of going undrafted, from not hearing your name called to getting the invite to minicamp by the Commanders?
It’s pretty hectic. I mean after the draft, you’re kind of on limited time. Teams are calling trying to get guys to go to different camps, [calling] free agents, stuff like that. It’s pretty crazy. At the time, I was pretty mad I didn’t get my name called or anything like that. But I got the call from my agent that the Commanders wanted me to come to their minicamp, and I ended up confirming.
Do you go into minicamp with a chip on your shoulder since you weren’t drafted, and now you have to start over despite your college success? Or is that just sports?
I think it’s kind of just sports. Obviously, it was awesome leading the league in rushing last year, but I also knew that I got the most carries. So, it kind of makes sense. I mean, there’s freak athletes (like lottery pick running back Bijan Robertson from Texas, who went No. 8 overall to the Atlanta Falcons), but I also know that I can compete with any of those guys on any team. I’ve been training really since January 1st after our bowl game. I haven’t stopped [training] yet. I feel pretty prepared and excited to see where this goes.
When anyone visits the White House, everyone always only sees the photo in the East Room. What else went into that visit and how surreal was that for you and your team?
Going there was just an unreal experience. I mean, everything about it was just crazy. Seeing all the monuments the day before…meeting with high-ranking individuals from the military…getting our Commander-in-Chief rings the night before. Then obviously once you attend the White House, it’s crazy. You go through the different lines of security. Your secret service agents are literally everywhere. I was able to talk to a lot of them and they were all awesome. I had the luxury of being placed right next to [President Biden] and shaking his hand, which was just an absolutely unreal moment. Something I’ll never forget.
Do you think the training and discipline that comes with being in the military gives you a competitive edge against other football players?
Yes sir, completely. Especially with the way we ran our offense. It was a huge advantage. Going through basic training and doing so many different things, it kind of alters your mindset a little bit. I know that I’m not going to be one to quit no matter what it is that I’m doing. That’s really the discipline that we’re taught in the military and I think that completely translates to football. No matter if you’re tired, no matter how much you’re hurting, whatever it is, you know you can push through it.
What attributes of your game will translate well to the next level, and what are you hoping to improve in the NFL?
I think running through contact and ball security will be my main strongpoints in the NFL. That’s something that they definitely pride themselves on, so hopefully I can showcase that. I believe I have pretty good hands, but I wasn’t really able to showcase it in our offense [at Air Force], so that’s something I can definitely work on and improve on and hopefully I get a shot to do that.
How can local student athletes in Colorado follow the route you had to achieve success?
I think a lot of it comes with just having good role models and finding your key points you can turn into success. Growing up, I was always sort of surrounded by football. That was just my family’s way of doing things. And growing up watching dudes like Christian McCaffrey and figuring out what he did, how hard he trained with different things. And one of my good buddies Max Borghi, just seeing what he did, knowing the whole process, and following the routine [those guys] were doing. Then some of, I think, is just a little bit of God-given talent and athleticism, but there’s definitely a lot of hard work and dedication involved with that.