IOWA CITY, Iowa - Matt Hankins and Kaevon Merriweather react the same way when asked about their Iowa secondary mate, Terry Roberts. They smile, ear to ear.
Despite being sidelined by injury during spring ball, Roberts brought more energy than most of the guys in pads. At Kids Day practice Aug. 14 here at Kinnick Stadium, his intensity increased even though he wore a red jersey, which limits contact due to health.
Roberts doesn't make excuses. His spirit is infectious.
"T-Rob, deuce-deuce, he's a funny man," Hankins said. "When he's out on the field, it's competitive. He's a great guy. He brings a ton of energy to the room. I can't wait to see what he can do."
Hankins and Riley Moss are holding down the starting cornerback spots right now in a loaded defensive backfield. Roberts would top the two-deep in a lot of secondaries across the country. He doesn't let it negatively impact his attitude.
Roberts marches forward with the focus and determination that helped him beat the odds and earn a Power 5 scholarship. Playing football is tough. Life can be tougher.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
Roberts' father, Terry Roberts Sr., admits to making bad choices growing up that compromised his ability to provide monetarily for his family. He got caught up doing the wrong things with the wrong people in his hometown of Erie, Pa.
"I made sure my son lived a totally different lifestyle than I did growing up," Terry Sr. said. "I told him what I did would get him in jail or laying in a cemetery somewhere."
Carving out that path was not easy despite Terry Sr. having a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a good job. It became more difficult when Terry was seven.
The mother of Terry and his three older sisters left the family. Terry Sr. was left to raise them on his salary.
"It was a nasty divorce," Terry Sr. said. "That impacts kids."
They worried about losing their house and finding their next meal for years.
"He's seen a lot and been through a lot. It was a struggle at times," Terry Sr. said. "It was the struggles of my life and he had to deal with that. My struggle was his struggle, having to borrow money and pay it back."
Terry Sr. was forced into bankruptcy.
"Terry struggled. He wanted to be like the other kids and have nice clothes and stuff. It was hard. We couldn't do that," Terry Sr. said.
When the electric and water was shut off at their house, the family would shower at a cousin's gym.
"It was a bad struggle. The neighborhood we lived in turned into a bad neighborhood," Terry Sr. said.
FINDING A WAY
Education and football were seen as vehicles to ride out of town. Terry Sr. found funds legally, any way he could, to send Terry to Cathedral Prep, one of the top schools in Erie. The program also sent Iowa Bob Sanders and Ed Hinkel.
When he was seven, Terry began training with another former Hawkeye, Jovon Johnson, who's second all-time in career interceptions. Another undersized cornerback, Johnson helped develop Terry into a two-time, first-team all-state selection at Cathedral Prep.
"Jovon taught me everything I know about defensive back. He took a shot on me and trained me. He helped me on and off the field. I'm blessed he took that shot on me," Terry said.
Listed generously at 5-foot-10, 169 pounds in his Rivals profile, Terry was overlooked in recruiting much like Johnson. Duquesne of the FCS offered a scholarship. That was it until Iowa jumped in during the summer before his senior year. He committed on the spot.
Johnson, who started as a true freshman, encouraged Terry to keep giving maximum effort and the Hawkeye staff would notice. He did and ended up winning the team leader award on special teams while red shirting as a true freshman in 2018.
Terry has continued going all out on special teams despite seeing limited reps on defense. He knocked an Iowa State player into his Cyclone teammate returning a punt, causing a fumble to clinch a win in Ames in 2019. He recovered two fumbles on special teams last season.
"He means a lot to this team," Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather said. "He brings so much energy. What he does on special teams helps the defense more than most people know. And if he goes in at corner, we all have the confidence he'll produce."
Student-athletes at the Power 5 level all stood out in high school. Quite a few of them have crumbled mentally working their way up the college depth chart.
Terry eats up adversity and spits out positives.
"He's a great dude. Everybody loves T-Rob," Merriweather said. "He has such up-beat energy. You love to gravitate to people like that. It brings us together around him."
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Iowa Football faced one of its toughest challenges ever last summer. George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police sparked change. So did Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz's reluctance to allow student-athletes to kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem.
It was fortunate Terry Roberts was around to help.
A pair of reports found racial bias within the program. Whites were treated better than Blacks, they said.
The Hawkeyes held hard conversations. They were uncomfortable. Changes were made.
"He said it was sad that (Floyd) being killed by the police was the only way awareness came (for Iowa Football)," Terry Sr. said. "He said people were scared to speak up. He hasn't had any bad experiences, to my knowledge, but things bothered him. I always tell him to be on his toes because you never know what can happen.
"He's the type of person that wants everybody to get along. He doesn't like the separation thing with Black and White."
Consistent dialogue was needed in order for a large group of people coming from different backgrounds and areas of the country to understand each other. Committees were formed. Barriers came down.
"No matter what your race is, no matter what your skin color is, no matter what your spirituality is, get to know one another because they might be going through the same thing that you went through," Terry said. "You may have a lot in common but you won't ever know unless you get to know them. You might bond together really well."
According to Terry Roberts, Hankins, Merriweather and others, that's happening.
"It's kind of unexplainable how much this team has grown," Terry Roberts said. "We've come together really, really closely. We're all close. We have each other's backs. This team is closer than it's ever been."
Some Iowa players kneeled for the national anthem last year. That created animosity outside of the football facility.
Inside the building, those student-athletes protesting explained why. Guys who wanted to stand expressed their reasoning for doing so.
"You kind of have to support everyone's decision," Terry Roberts said. "Even if you don't agree, you have to see where everyone is coming from. It's all about loving one another and supporting one another."
He chose to kneel. It was important to him.
"Being a Black man in America is tough. It's very tough," he said. "Some people say it's not that tough. If you could stand in an African-American's shoes, you'd see it's tougher than it looks and it's tougher than it sounds."
Terry Roberts speaks from experience. He knows tough.
Despite the hardships, he wants people to know he loves his mother. He understands everyone struggles at times.
Life is hard. He doesn't look too far into the future. He concentrates on making the most of today.
"I just want to know at the end that I gave it my all. Wherever life takes me, wherever God takes me, then that's where we'll go," he said.