116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — No one who’s passed through the Iowa football complex has been Bob Sanders other than Bob Sanders.
Terry Roberts isn’t Bob Sanders, not unless he morphs into an All-American. He did get career interception No. 1 last Friday at Maryland, and you have to start with one.
Still, you can’t help but make the connection between the two players who are about two decades apart as Hawkeyes. They are, after all, defensive backs from the same high school in Erie, Pa., Cathedral Prep.
Sanders made his bones at Iowa as a freshman special teams gunner in 2000, annihilating opponents and changing his team’s physicality almost single-handedly.
Once Sanders started the ninth game of his freshman season at safety in Kirk Ferentz’s second season as Iowa’s coach, there was no turning back. The Hawkeyes were different with Sanders set loose on the field.
Roberts is in his third year of playing on special teams for Iowa, working toward getting more playing time at cornerback. It’s a crowded house there with senior starters Matt Hankins and Riley Moss able and proven.
When inserted in the game for prevent defense on Maryland’s last play of the first half, Roberts intercepted Taulia Tagovailoa’s Hail Mary pass. His teammates joined him for a very enthusiastic celebration.
“I think I said last week we consider him a starter at corner,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “(We have) a couple good players that are veteran guys, otherwise he would be starting for us. For him to get that action out there, have a chance to get a pick, that was great. He's been doing a great job on special teams for sure.”
Roberts continues to be a kick-coverage nightmare for opponents. In 2019, he steered Iowa State’s Datrone Young into teammate Deshaunte Jones, who fumbled away a punt with just over 90 seconds left to secure the Hawkeyes’ 18-17 win.
Last year, Roberts recovered fumbled punt returns against Northwestern and Nebraska. This year he has constantly gotten to the return man or the ball itself after punter Tory Taylor has expertly placed it deep.
It hasn’t just been great coverage by Roberts, it’s been explosive, emotional play that has created momentum or expanded on it. Like Sanders did on kick coverage before leaving it to play on defense.
“He seems like a tough kid,” said Ed Hinkel, who like Roberts, starred on a state-championship team at Cathedral Prep before going to Iowa and becoming a significant contributor. “He plays hard, always 100 miles an hour, and makes plays.”
Erie is almost squarely between Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Its most-famous actor is Ann B. Davis, housekeeper Alice in “The Brady Bunch.” But athletes? Take your pick.
And, of course, Sanders, the AP’s choice for NFL Defensive Player of the Year after the 2007 season.
Roberts didn’t know Sanders once was a special-teams maestro when Iowa recruited him. He just knew who Sanders was, and that he was great.
“He’s a big deal everywhere (in Erie),” Roberts said Tuesday.
“Bob is his own player. I’m my own player. I try not to compare that. Bob is a great player, and that’s what I want to be.”
Another stellar former Hawkeye defensive back, Jovon Johnson, comes home to Erie in the summers and trains kids in football. Johnson, who had 17 interceptions at Iowa, worked with the 7-year-old Roberts and has remained a mentor and friend.
It had been a long time since someone from Erie has stirred it up at Iowa. The lineage from Sanders to Roberts, undersized, under-recruited guys smashing punt returners and taking names, is unmistakable.
“There's a parallel for sure,” Ferentz said.
“Yeah, Erie has been really good to us. Haven't had a lot of guys (from there), but the ones we've had have been pretty good for us.”
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