The Big Sky Conference has been celebrating the league's success both on and off the playing field by honoring 50 years of men's athletics and 25 years of women's athletics. The 50th anniversary celebrates the all-time individuals, teams and moments in the Big Sky's history, including the selection of the league's "50 Greatest Male Athletes" and the "25 Greatest Female Athletes." Along with these lists, the league will unveil the most memorable moments for both men's and women's competition.
Having already earned the 26th Greatest Event with his 409 rushing yards against Idaho State, former Sacramento State running back Charles Roberts has been named to the Greatest Male Athlete list at No. 18. Roberts starred for the Hornets from 1997-2000 and still holds the school records for single-game, single-season and career rushing yards as well as career touchdowns.
Below is a story posted on the Big Sky Conference website.
No. 18 Sacramento State's Charles Roberts
Charles Roberts delivered at Sacramento State and in the Canadian Football League.
The former Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP and league's all-time leading rusher is still delivering for the United States Postal Service.
Roberts, who ranks 18th on the list of the Big Sky Conference's "50 Greatest Male Athletes,'' lives a fairly anonymous life now, working in Orange County, Calif., at a post office.
"This feels good,'' Roberts said of being named one of the greatest in Big Sky history. "It certainly always feels good to not be forgotten about. To still be thought about in a positive manner is really a good feeling for me.''
Now five years removed from his illustrious CFL career, the honors keep rolling in. This past fall, he was inducted in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Hall of Fame. At the Grey Cup in November, it was announced Roberts would be inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 2014.
Inch for inch, Roberts may rank as one of the greatest running backs in the history of football. Generously listed at 5-foot-6, Roberts overcame his lack of height to first rewrite the Big Sky record books and then enjoy a decorated eight-year career north of the border.
"The big schools wouldn't give me a chance out of high school,'' said Roberts, who grew up in Montclair, Calif. "Obviously I wasn't what they were looking for in a prototype running back. I didn't fit the mold, but I didn't have any plans on changing positions. I was like the Tim Tebow of running backs. I was going to play running back. Sacramento State gave me the opportunity to be a star running back in a pretty legitimate conference.''
John Volek, who recruited and coached Roberts at Sacramento State, was never bothered by the lack of height. Roberts' high school coach had become good friends with the Sacramento State staff after Volek had recruited a few of his players.
"He told us he had one that everyone was missing,'' Volek recalled. "I got the film, and we watched two games. He never came off the field. He played all the plays on special teams, he played cornerback, and he played tailback. All he did was make plays. We were recruiting him full-on. We flew down and went to some of his basketball games. We were just amazed at the quality of athlete we were getting. By the fourth or five game of his freshman year, it was history.''
Roberts didn't redshirt, but he didn't start immediately in 1997. He finished his first campaign with 139 carries for 587 yards and just one touchdown.
"We went through three or four running backs before I got a shot,'' Roberts said. "I felt like I would probably only get one chance if I didn't do anything.''
From that point on, it was hard to get Roberts to leave the field. As a sophomore in 1998, Roberts carried the ball 386 times for 2,260 yards with 19 touchdowns. The 2,260 rushing yards remain the most ever in a single-season by a Big Sky running back, and at the time were the most ever in a single-season by an FCS back.
The following year, Roberts became the first running back in FCS to gain 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He finished with 2,082 yards on 303 carries with 22 touchdowns. Roberts led the nation in rushing in 1998 and 1999, was named the Big Sky Offensive MVP in 1999, and garnered First Team All-Conference honors both seasons.
Roberts gained 1,624 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in 2000, again earning Big Sky First Team honors, and a Co-Offensive MVP honor.
"Even if I was hurt or in pain, I never wanted to give another person a chance to show what they could do,'' Roberts said. "I think my best attribute was my competitive nature. I never wanted to give up.''
Despite his amazing success, he never won the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the top player in FCS football. In 1998, New Hampshire running back Jerry Azumah. The following year, Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson won the Payton.
Sacramento State was a relative newcomer to the FCS or Division I-AA world at the time. The Hornets joined the Big Sky Conference in 1996. In 1997, Sacramento State finished 1-10, but was 5-6 in 1998 and 6-5 in 1999. In 2000, the Hornets finished 7-4, its best season to this date in the Big Sky.
"Voters vote for who they want to win the award,'' Roberts said. "Adrian Peterson did great things. Jerry Azumah did great things. Early on, I did regret it. It's in the past now, but it would have been a great honor.''
Roberts best game occurred in 1999 when he gained 409 yards and scored five touchdowns in a win over Idaho State. The 409 yards were an FCS single-game record, and remain the most in Big Sky history.
Roberts did it all with a blend of speed and toughness.
"He was so tough,'' Volek said. "He was all muscle. He loved the physical part of practice. In the scrimmages, that is where he shined, and he won over his offensive line. The only times we had conflict was in practice when I wouldn't let him do the physical stuff. He told me I was embarrassing him in front of his offensive line.''
Roberts was loved and revered by his offensive line, "The Hammerheads," because of his practice habits. While Roberts was earning the headlines, it was the likes of Jon Osterhout, Tim Conley, Lonie Paxton, Terrance Wagner, Doug Hillingsworth, fullback Mike Wooster, and tight end Chris Kelly opening the holes.
"After he rushed for 2,000 yards, we put the offensive line on the team poster with Charles,'' Volek said. "It was all over town the next year. They were a unique group, very bonded.''
When his collegiate career finally came to an end, Roberts finished first in Big Sky history in career rushing yards (6,553) and all-purpose yards (7,112). Both records stand to this day, as do his carries in a season (386), carried in a career (1,124), rushing yards in a game (409), rushing yards in a season (2,260) and career rushing touchdowns (57).
"I'm not vain or anything, but I don't want someone to come along at Sacramento State and break those records,'' he said. "If they did great the league records, it would take a four-year starter. I didn't start until the eighth game of my freshman year. You'd need a couple of big 2,000 yard seasons. It's hard to do that now, with all the passing, and running quarterbacks. And you have to stay healthy. When I was playing, I ran with reckless abandon.''
Overlooked by the NFL, Roberts went to Canada. Again, he amazed all who watched him, earning the nickname "Blink" because of his speed an agility. Seven straight years, he was named a CFL All-Star. He finished his career with 10,285 yards – one of five players in league history with more than 10,000 yards. He scored 69 rushing touchdowns. He had 3,396 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Although out of football now, he may involve himself again in the sport.
"Not as a coach,'' he said. "Maybe as a recruiter or some kind of mentor to high school or college athletes, someone who can help with the mental aspect and pressure of being a college athlete, it's a difficult thing. You're going to school, some are also working. It's not as glorious as it sounds to be on the football team or play a sport. It's difficult. It's hard to be that age, and worry about things like losing your scholarship.''