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What makes football so unique, what brews the attention of the American public to a frenzy on fall Saturdays and Sundays, is its brutality.

The smack of shoulder pads and -- all too often as the game got bigger, quicker, fiercer -- the crack of helmets pen a savage symphony on college campuses across the United States.

Football is America's passion now, a far cry from America's pastime and the world in which Ben Roberts lived for four years as a collegiate baseball player. When you finish a college football game, the rest of your day had better consist of rest and rehabilitation.

"You could usually go out and do some stuff, hang out with your buddies," Roberts said of evenings following one of the many Washington State baseball games he participated the last four springs. "You come home from a football game? It's couch time. It's bed time."

Roberts, unarguably the greatest Missoula prep athlete during his four-year stay at Sentinel High, is learning a lot has changed since the last time he suited up for football. But a lot is still the same.

After departing the Wazzu baseball program this summer, Roberts has been a diligent study of the gridiron game, not only breaking into the Montana Grizzlies' lineup as a transfer but proving he's still the wide receiver who once took an eraser to the Montana high school record books.


Summertime meant baseball and baseball meant good times.

Ben Roberts was a standout athlete even as a youngster, the best on the football field, baseball diamond or basketball court. And though his favorite sport seemed dynamic, shifting like the passing seasons, baseball carried a little more weight for the young Missoulian.

He used to watch The Sandlot on repeat, friends borrowing a nickname from one of the film's protagonists and dubbing Roberts the real-life version.

Benny the Jet.

He was high-energy, quick-moving and fast on his feet.

"It surprised me he took to baseball the way he did because he was always a kid who couldn't sit still for long and baseball is kind of a slower sport," laughed Cheri Roberts, Ben's mother and a former Lady Griz basketball player under the name Cheri Bratt once upon a time.

By high school Roberts's football and baseball exploits were neck and neck. Dane Oliver, now Sentinel's head football coach but an assistant in 2007 when Roberts entered high school, remembers his first impression of the receiver.

"It was obvious he wasn't gonna be with the freshman team very long," joked Oliver this week. "He had a flare of the dramatic. ... He could take over a game."

While Roberts was destroying baseballs -- he batted .425 with 16 home runs, 76 RBIs, 19 triples and 27 stolen bases in 2010 as the Missoula Mavericks broke 10 team records and earned their first state American Legion title since 1998 -- he was performing even more astounding feats on the football field.

By the end of that fall, in which he caught an MHSA record 108 passes for 1,370 yards and 12 touchdowns, Roberts owned state records in career catches (245) and single-game catches (18) and was second in career receiving yards (3,298) and TDs (31).

Bring that 18-catch game up around Oliver. It still has him raving.

"I think we were down 14 points and in the last two drives he's double, triple covered and we still went to him," said Oliver, himself a former Griz receiver. "The athleticism and the height, his ability to track balls, go up and get balls, set him apart. You see that at the college level, but he was doing that in high school."

Though big name programs like Boise State, Oregon, Stanford and the hometown Grizzlies were throwing scholarship offers his way, Roberts couldn't shake his lingering childhood passion.

Baseball was calling.


The 6-foot-4 high schooler opted to join Washington State after graduation to play baseball, his commitment unchanged despite a call from the MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks in the seventh round of the 2011 amateur draft.

"Down to the end, baseball just seemed like the right choice for me," Roberts said this week from, ironically, football practice. "Saying no to that was difficult. I had things like my education, playing baseball and getting that college experience that seemed like a more important thing at the time."

Not that he didn't think about it. Roberts and the D-backs could not agree to contract terms. By attending WSU that fall, Arizona forfeited his rights and Roberts in turn forfeited professional ball until at least after his junior year.

The success that came so easy in American Legion ball, that oozed like pine tar on a freshly swung bat, evaded the Montanan at Wazzu. He redshirted his first season, then batted just .136 in 2013. He batted .289 as a sophomore, but things slipped again this past spring.

He hit just .211, his once booming love for baseball beginning to waver.

"Baseball is a hard sport; you will fail in baseball," said Cheri, who felt her son's discontent growing from Missoula. "It's how you react to it that makes you a great player.

"I think you can get burnt out. Twelve months out of the year he played baseball."

His undergraduate degree in social sciences complete, Roberts somewhat famously began searching for alternatives. Discussions with UM and its new coaching staff promised some hope. With one year left of college eligibility, the athlete would switch sports and don Griz gear for his final year.

What did he have to lose?


The Grizzlies were thinking much the same thing. Roberts would be a non-scholarship walk-on -- a very low risk addition.

"So much unknown," began Justin Green, Montana's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. "If he plays two plays, it's more than you'd expect from a guy like that who's been playing baseball."

He's done much more than that.

In the Grizzlies' first game of the season, Roberts sent 26,00 fans into a frenzy at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, the football Taj Mahal he used to frequent growing up in the Garden City. The receiver went over the top of a defender to pull down a 38-yard pass from quarterback Brady Gustafson, tumbling into the end zone for a touchdown on his first career collegiate catch.

Roberts followed it up with a catch on the ensuing two-point conversion.

"He catches a ball just like he did in high school, he runs just like he did in high school, but he's physically built a lot more than he was in high school," said Green, a graduate assistant the year the Griz first recruited Roberts.

The 23-year-old is up to 215 pounds from his high school playing size.

Returning to Missoula has rejuvenated the Sentinel graduate two-fold, both personally and athletically.

For the first time in years Roberts had a summer in 2015. He spent time at Flathead Lake, palled around with high school buddies still in town and recharged his batteries, moving back into his old room in his family home.

His love of athletics is re-energized as well. He's ready to do whatever he needs for the Grizzlies this fall, having already caught six passes for 74 yards and that one climactic touchdown. Roberts has even shifted inside to H-back, a bigger-bodied slot receiver, from the outside, vertical receiver position he's always known.

"Whatever they need me to do to help out," said Roberts of his brief one-year stay with the Grizzlies. "I'm almost like a mercenary, ya know? Just coming in to fight the battles."

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