Since Day 1, Roy Robertson-Harris’ mindset never has changed.
It didn’t matter whether it was South Grand Prairie (Texas) High School or the University of Texas-El Paso. His goal when he started playing football at age 12 was to use every opportunity he was given to inch closer to achieving his ever-evolving dreams.
As a teenager, Robertson-Harris woke up every day at 5 a.m. with his father, Howard, to run and lift weights before school in hopes of someday earning a college scholarship. Once at UTEP, he and teammate Cornelius Brown traded stories in the weight room of one day making their NFL aspirations a reality.
“I’d tell him every day anytime I’d go work out that it’s another step: ‘It’s a day closer to my goal,'" recalled Robertson-Harris in a phone interview Wednesday. “It was like, ‘Why not?’ You reach for the stars.”
Now, those stars are nearly within reach.
Only a few weeks away from the 2016 NFL draft, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound edge rusher is generating serious buzz around the league not only for his size, but also his recent UTEP pro day where he improved his marks across the board from his first workout at the Arizona regional combine Feb. 20.
Accordingly, the phone calls have started to heat up. He visited Oakland and Kansas City last week and had private workouts with Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota. Those workouts have led to scheduled visits this week with the Bears on Thursday and the Packers on Friday.
The entire process has been surreal for a kid who didn’t even like football when he picked up the sport a little more than 10 years ago. His first exposure came because of his sister, Taria, who was a cheerleader on a local Pop Warner team when the family lived in Oakland, Calif.
One of the parents asked Robertson-Harris if he wanted to sign up. He’d only played basketball and baseball as a kid, but decided to give it a chance. It wasn’t until the family moved to Dallas the following year that he fully began to appreciate the sport. He started taking it seriously, eating right and putting all his energy into football.
It also didn’t hurt that his cousin, Carl Nicks, was an offensive lineman on the Nebraska football team who later became a fifth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2008 NFL draft. Nicks won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2009 and developed into a two-time Pro Bowl left guard.
Those successes left an indelible impact on Robertson-Harris. The first college and NFL games he witnessed in person were to watch his older cousin.
“Once Carl got drafted, we went to his games and it was like, ‘Man, you have to be like these guys,’” Robertson-Harris said. “Even when he was at Nebraska, it was, ‘Hey, this could be you if you buckle down and take care of your school, you could end up going to colleges for visits and could end up getting scholarship offers.’
“From there it was just like, ‘I have to do this.’ If my cousin can do it, then I know for sure I could do it. I just have to put my nose to the ground and that’s it.”
That’s what Robertson-Harris did during the past five years at UTEP. A team captain as a senior, the lengthy defensive end racked up 138 tackles (25 for a loss) with 10½ sacks and 16 quarterback hurries in 47 career games. Nearly half of his tackles came within two yards of the line of scrimmage, according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
Robertson-Harris played all across the line at UTEP, lining up in a three-point stance and occasionally standing up. So far, it has been about 50/50 regarding where teams see him in the NFL. With the Packers, he could fit into the multifaceted elephant role that has grown in popularity in Dom Capers’ defense in recent years.
He still has been a relative unknown during the lead-up to the NFL draft. To help improve his numbers, Robertson-Harris linked up after his regional combine with Houston-based trainer Matt Kerstetter, who has worked with a number of current NFL players on their pre-draft preparation.
Less than a month away from his pro day, the two had only about 3½ weeks to work together. Instead of focusing strictly on position-specific drills, they worked to hone his movement drills, explosiveness and change of direction. It took a few days to catch up on lost time, but the results were soon noticeable.
The sessions helped rebuild Robertson-Harris’ confidence and it translated at his pro day. He recorded a 4.8-second time in the 40-yard dash with a 35-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-11 broad jump. Robertson-Harris even improved his bench to 23 reps of 225 pounds.
NFL teams have measured his arms anywhere from 31½ to 33 inches on top of a nearly 7-foot wingspan.
“He is every bit 6-6 and he’s so lean, but he has weight on his frame,” Kerstetter said. “If you can show you can run around at that size and have that much athleticism, you’re showing you can run down on kickoffs to cover kicks. You’re showing you can be on punt team. They’re going to find a way to get you on the field even if it is just special teams and you have to play a backup role (at first).”
Robertson-Harris also spoke with Nicks during his pre-draft process. They talked about everything from hiring an agent to what to expect in talking with NFL teams. However, the biggest advice Nicks gave him was to simply be yourself throughout the entire process.
His UTEP teammate, Brown, realized his NFL dream in 2010 as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts. Now, it’s Robertson-Harris’ chance to capitalize, whether it’s in Green Bay with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers or elsewhere in the league.
Coincidentally, this week won’t be his first venture into Wisconsin. UTEP played the Badgers in Madison during Robertson-Harris’ redshirt freshman year. Snow actually was in the forecast for the Sept. 22 game, but it ended up just raining with temperatures hovering in the 30s.
On the precipice of the NFL, Robertson-Harris could be in for a busy summer. He and his fiancé are expecting the birth of a baby boy in August, so he’s no longer just playing football for himself.
And so another goal begins.
“It is crazy. There’s no words to put to it. All the people who are in your corner,” Robertson-Harris said. “You have goals, you set goals and you work for them. If you’re not waking up and trying to reach your goals every day, then why are you even getting out of bed?”
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