Tre Roberson (pictured above) had already tallied 501 total yards and five touchdowns in just more than five quarters of action in 2012 when he was lost for the year with a broken leg.
Social media is often approached warily in modern college athletics, an easily bridged divide between athletes, the media and the public inevitably creating headaches.
But for Tre Roberson, social media was a comfort zone into which he could immerse himself, take himself closer to home, to his family and friends and teammates, even from the cold unfamiliarity of a Boston hospital room.
“When it happened, a lot of people were texting me, tweeting me,” Roberson said Tuesday, speaking for the first time since breaking his leg after a defender fell on it in the second quarter of Indiana’s 45-6 win at UMass two weekends ago.
The injury, a fracture of the tibia and fibula in Roberson's left leg, was a blow to Indiana, taking away a young but promising quarterback in whom coach Kevin Wilson had apparently placed much faith.
But it was also a blow to Roberson, who by the accounts of his teammates and coaches had worked unceasingly through the last offseason to make himself a better quarterback, and the best quarterback for the Hoosiers’ new offense.
He won the starting job, promptly throwing for nearly 300 yards in IU’s opener. He had already posted 202 total yards and three touchdowns, including one on a 50-yard scramble, in just more than 15 minutes against the Minutemen, when his tibia and fibula were cleanly broken as he dove toward the goal line, trying to score Indiana’s fourth touchdown in 20 minutes.
Roberson freely admits some fault in what, in the moment, was nothing beyond catastrophic coincidence. On the play during which his injury occurred, Roberson took off scrambling because he had made the wrong read and thought, from the UMass 5-yard line, he could reach the endzone with his legs.
Had he looked the other way — or had he seen a teammate running free on a swing route earlier in the drive, open enough to score easily — Roberson might have been taking snaps at practice Tuesday. As it is, he’s confined to throwing off of a stool at the moment.
In Roberson's absence, Cam Coffman (2) has proven a capable understudy. But he too is now dealing with an injury, after suffering a hip pointer against Ball State. Coffman is likely to return for Indiana's Big Ten opener at Northwestern after the current open week.
By and large, Roberson has maintained an even strain. He credits that strong support system, which began on Twitter and on his phone, and with his mother flying out to Boston to be with him.
And the player who spent so much time working in the winter and spring — watching film religiously, drilling himself on technique and generally bettering himself as a quarterback — showed the same eagerness to attack the obstacle now in front of him.
“I’m really gonna take advantage of this situation,” said Roberson, who will receive a medical hardship allowance and redshirt this season. “I’m gonna try to get bigger, try to get way bigger, try to get way stronger, try to get faster, try to get my arm stronger, try to get mentally better and just try to be the best I can for next year.”
In his absence, Indiana has found perhaps two capable replacements for their original No. 1 quarterback. Fellow sophomore Cameron Coffman completed 24-of-35 passes and threw two for touchdowns last weekend in IU’s two-point loss to Ball State. Freshman Nate Sudfeld led two touchdown drives in a comeback bid that eventually put IU ahead by one point with less than a minute to go, a lead not long held.
But Wilson also admitted Tuesday that Indiana’s 10-play, third-quarter offensive performance put “stress” on his entire team. That stagnation, he said, had a direct effect on the loss.
Perhaps it’s of small consolation to Roberson and his position mates that he hasn’t gone far. The sophomore quarterback spent Saturday night in the press box, seated beside offensive coordinator Seth Littrell. His leg needs healing, but his eyes worked fine, as he tried to read and relay coverages, blitzes — anything he could see from up high.
It’s a position Roberson will take up through the rest of the home schedule, and a role he’ll fill on the road, assuming Indiana can bring him along without having to count him against its player travel limit.
At the moment, though, Roberson’s best friend is time.
Doctors expect him to be back for spring practice, after what Wilson pegged as a five-to-six-month layoff. He’s had titanium rods inserted into each of his broken bones, and unlike, perhaps, a ligament injury, Roberson has been told that once the bone heals, he won’t necessarily have anything structural to worry about moving forward.
Roberson entered Indiana’s Team Room on Tuesday using crutches, but he can walk on the leg, albeit gingerly. He wears a walking boot, not a cast.
“Physically, I can do a lot of things,” he said. “I can put pressure on my leg and walk on it right now. It hurts a little bit. I can throw and just do rehab things, just to get it stronger.”
Necessity dictates Indiana move on in the now. Wilson wanted as much to talk about Coffman’s health Tuesday as Roberson’s — Indiana’s now-No. 1 quarterback is recovering from a hip pointer suffered this past weekend.
Moving forward has been Roberson’s preference as well. When he returned to his team, after spending the days immediately following his surgery resting at the hospital in Boston, the sophomore simply went back to work, just with an altered schedule.
But he’s not been forgotten, certainly. His new job in the press box is built both to keep his mind engaged, and to keep him involved. He’s sought counsel with a teammate who suffered the same injury in high school, though he declined to single that player out by name.
Roberson is back in the fold. He’s at practice, not a plane flight away in a quiet hospital room in an unfamiliar city. But the same support structure that saw him through the days after his surgery — from his coach, who told him to “breathe” on the field at Gillette Stadium, to his family, to his friends and his teammates — hasn’t abandoned him either. Nobody appears interested in living in the past.
“It’s been real tough, but I’ve had help around here, with all the coaches, weight coaches, my girlfriend,” Roberson said. “Everybody’s just been helping me through, my family. It’s been tough, but everybody’s helping me through.”