Ben Roberts

Missoula Sentinel’s Ben Roberts, pictured breaking a tackle against crosstown foe Big Sky in 2010, played baseball at Washington State the past four years before returning to Missoula to play football for the Grizzlies.

Missoulian file

Ben Roberts is coming home.

The former Missoula Sentinel record-breaking wide receiver who spent the last four years playing baseball at Washington State will do his graduate studies at the University of Montana with the goal of joining the Grizzly football team this fall.

Roberts has been accepted into UM's media arts program and has participated in the Grizzlies' player-only workouts in July. He graduated from WSU this spring with a degree in social sciences.

"Just getting some paperwork cleared through the NCAA and we should be good to go," said Roberts, who would have one year of athletic eligibility remaining regardless of what school he attends in 2015-16.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder was a three-sport standout for the Spartans before graduating in 2011, drawing interest from college recruiters in football, baseball and basketball. Baseball won out in the form of a full-ride scholarship to Wazzu, the only university open to the idea of his adding football to the schedule as well.

That never happened. The last time Roberts suited up in pads on the gridiron was way back in 2010 around Halloween.

Roberts, a three-time first-team all-state selection at WR, felt his interest in baseball waning even before this spring's season in Pullman, Washington, his redshirt junior year.

"It's been kind of a process since, I dunno, December even," he said. "Just been crossing my mind.

"Once I got back here from school, I sat down with the (football) coaches before the (MLB draft in June) and went over some things. They seemed interested and I was definitely interested."

Roberts, drafted by baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks in the seventh round out of high school in 2011, was not picked this spring or last once eligible again after three or more years of college ball. Many teams knew he wasn't sold on the sport anymore, Roberts acknowledged.

A left-handed swinging outfielder, Roberts batted just .211 this year in 53 games played before the Cougars' season ended in late May on the outside of the Pac-12 Conference tournament.

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Roberts put together one of most prolific pass-catching seasons and careers in Montana high school history, breaking a pair of all-time receiving records and tying another.

He caught a record 108 passes in just 10 games for 1,370 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. His career total of 245 grabs is another record and he was believed to be second in career yards (3,298) and TDs (31). He also caught 18 balls in a game against Butte in 2010, tied for the most all-time.

All that exciting offense drew the eyes of several football powers like Boise State, Oregon, Stanford and UNLV. Also in the mix were the hometown Grizzlies, two head coaches ago led by Bobby Hauck.

With just one year left to play, does he wish he'd stuck to football?

"I think about it every once in a while, but I'm happy with the decision I made coming out of high school," Roberts said. "I was able to get my education out of it and graduated from WSU so I don't have to worry about that anymore.

"Now I have this great opportunity to play some football and take some grad classes. I couldn't be more excited."

Roberts is already getting his sea legs under him, working his way back with Montana's receivers over the past two weeks of workouts.

"They've been really helpful and stuff, teaching me the plays and helping me get back into football," he added.

Though WR has always been Roberts' strength and would seem a good fit in first-year head coach Bob Stitt's system, one that calls for about a dozen solid pass-catchers available per game, Roberts said his role with the team hasn't been clarified yet.

And while Roberts said he expects to be present when the Griz open fall practice next Monday, Aug. 3, only 95 players can participate in fall drills. That leaves a handful of late adds and walk-ons forced to wait until roster limits expand to 105 with the start of the school term four weeks later.

Regardless of when Roberts' addition becomes official, he's feeling rejuvenated in his passion for college athletics.

"I'm so excited to be back in Missoula and living back with my family," he said. "It'll be a really fun year."

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