When Larry Fitzgerald arrived at his football camp Tuesday afternoon, Andre Roberts greeted the NFL star with a big hug and a smile.
By the numbers
Former Citadel WR Andre Roberts NFL statistics:
Year G Rec Yards Avg. TDs
2010 15 24 307 12.8 2
2011 16 51 586 11.5 2
2012 15 64 759 11.9 5
Totals 46 139 1,652 11.9 9
“Larry’s my mentor, and my best friend on the team,” Roberts told the kids at the camp held at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.
When Fitzgerald addressed the campers, he returned the compliment, calling Roberts “my best friend on the team, and one of my best friends in life.”
Roberts, the former Citadel All-American entering his fourth season with Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals, is not shy about crediting the six-time Pro Bowl receiver with helping a fourth-round draft pick from a small FCS school become an established NFL receiver.
“He’s taught me a lot of things about the NFL,” said Roberts, who caught 64 passes for 759 yards and five touchdowns last season, increasing his totals for the third straight year. “On and off the field, he’s taught me the way to be a professional, and that’s the biggest thing.
“In the NFL, everybody has skill. But everybody doesn’t know how to act off the field. They don’t know how to train before the season, after the season, and he’s helped me out with that a lot.”
Their friendship goes deeper than off-season workouts at Fitzgerald’s annual summer sessions at the University of Minnesota. Roberts and Fitzgerald have become golf fiends, playing together on famed courses such as Whistling Straits, Olympia Fields and Southern Highlands.
Roberts has also taken up Fitzgerald’s love of adventure. They traveled together this year to Antarctica and to Central America, where they went snorkeling in Cartagena, Colombia, and Fitzgerald sand-boarded down a volcano in Nicaragua.
Said Roberts, “We’ve really built a good bond these past three years.”
Off the field, Fitzgerald has helped Roberts grow from the rather shy and soft-spoken freshman who reported to The Citadel in 2006 to a polished speaker confident enough to do fashion shoots and deal with the demands on, and temptations available to, an NFL player.
“You have to be an adult,” said Roberts, who graduated in 2009 as The Citadel’s all-time leading receiver with 286 catches for 3,743 yards and 36 touchdowns.
“You have to grow up and understand that you have your own money and things, and it’s important to do the right things with it.
“It gets tough during the season, but you try to stay out of trouble, keep your head down and go to work.”
The 2014 season shapes up as an important one for Roberts, Fitzgerald and the Cardinals, who fired coach Ken Whisenhunt after last year’s 5-11 record. New coach Bruce Arians brings a new offense, with veteran Carson Palmer brought in to solve the Cardinals’ QB woes.
Last year, Arizona used four quarterbacks (after using three in 2011 and four in 2010), and Fitzgerald suffered through what he called “his worst season as a pro.” His string of five straight 1,000-yard seasons was snapped, and he finished with 71 catches for 798 yards and a career-low four TDs.
For his part, Roberts is in the final year of his initial four-year contract, which will pay him $1.3 million this season. But with 2012 draft pick Michael Floyd, a 6-3, 225-pounder from Notre Dame, penciled in to star outside across from Fitzgerald, Roberts is likely to move to the slot as he plays for his next contract.
“It was a rough season in all respects,” Fitzgerald told reporters earlier this month at his summer workouts. “But it’s behind me now. I view that as a learning experience, never to happen again.”
Roberts, 5-11 and 195 pounds, is confident that Palmer can make a difference.
“All the receivers are excited about him,” he said. “We’ve got to get some things together on offense, everyone knows that. He can make every throw, he’s done well in mini-camps and workouts, so we’ll see how it goes this season.”