By Corrie MacLaggan, 1998 Scholar | When Daron K. Roberts (1997 Scholar) was a Harvard Law School student, he came up with a radical new career goal: To become a football coach.
Never mind that he hadn’t played football in college. Never mind that he had no football coaching experience.
He wrote 164 letters seeking coaching opportunities, sending them to the head coach and defensive coordinator at each of the NFL teams and at the top college programs. And it worked—the Kansas City Chiefs took a chance on him by offering him an internship following his law school graduation in 2007. Today, he’s a professional football coach with the Detroit Lions.
Now, Daron, a fifth-generation East Texan, is taking on a new challenge that involves giving back to his home community. Earlier this year, he launched 4th and 1, a summer camp in Mount Pleasant, Texas, for at-risk high school boys.
The free camp mixes football with SAT training, college preparation, and life skills. The student-athletes, who are predominately African American and Hispanic, come from families in which going to college isn’t necessarily the norm.
Daron’s idea was to “use football as a hook,” he says, and then have students take an SAT prep course—something they weren’t likely to find anywhere near Mount Pleasant, which is two hours east of Dallas.
“Football, I think, has the ability to be the strongest connector,” says Daron, who played football at Mount Pleasant High School. “It’s probably the best conduit for changing young men’s lives.”
Inspired by his time in college at the University of Texas, where he had friends who were reluctant to attend nice dinners because they weren’t comfortable using proper etiquette, Daron thought campers should have lessons in life skills, too. In addition to etiquette, campers get exposed to yoga and cooking. They learn how to tie a necktie and why an e-mail address starting with something like “pookie323” isn’t appropriate for a college or job application.
The schedule is brutal. Drawing from NFL training camps, Daron designed 17- to 18-hour days for his campers.
“I felt that while we had those students in our midst for that short period of time, we should just bombard them with positive stimuli,” Daron says.
The five-day camp kicked off this past summer with 35 students, including Terrance Walker. Terrance says that Daron talked to him about college “in a way I could understand it” and that he learned the steps necessary to apply.
“We learned a little bit about football,” Terrance says of the camp. “We learned more on life.”
When he isn’t coaching defensive backs for the Lions, Daron is planning camps for next summer, including the second 4th and 1 camp in Mount Pleasant as well as one in East Lansing, Michigan.
Meanwhile, he dreams of becoming a head football coach at the college level in Texas.
“I look forward to the challenge of recruiting students, convincing their moms and dads that I want them to graduate as much as they do,” he says.
Anyone who doubts that he can achieve that goal should hear the story of how a law school student with no football coaching experience became a coach in the NFL.
Corrie MacLaggan (1998) is a reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, where she covers Texas government and politics. A native Austinite, she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.