On a scorching Arizona morning in August 2018, Notre Dame Prep tight end J.D. Roberts was taking part in a pre-season scrimmage with his teammates.
He was excited about the team and looked forward to his sophomore season with the Saints.
On a play where the Notre Dame quarterback retreated into the pocket, Roberts ran his route. He caught the pass and turned upfield, but as he neared the sideline his knee hyperextended, forcing him to the turf.
“I honestly thought I was fine,” Roberts said. “It was one of those stingers where you get up and walk off.”
The diagnosis was an injury no athlete wishes to hear. Roberts suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The injury would take 12 months to fully heal after having the ligament repaired in surgery. It was an uphill battle for the tight end who was already receiving interest from colleges.
To Roberts, the injury was detrimental.
“I definitely got a little depressed, but then I just attacked it and I knew I could not feel sorry for myself,” Roberts said. “I just have to go get it.”
An injury as severe as an ACL tear takes its toll both mentally and physically. In many cases, mental obstacles can outlast the physical recovery.
However, for Roberts, this was just another chapter of adversity he has gone through in his life.
“When I was 11, in the spring season, I was very nauseated, always in pain, constantly dehydrated and I would pass out after a big meal,” Roberts recalled.
Tests revealed that Roberts had Type I Diabetes, an illness no 11-year old should have to deal with so early in life. It requires constant attention and multiple insulin shots a day to control sugar.
Despite the unfamiliar feelings and experience, Roberts took it in stride.
“J.D. actually gave himself his first shot,” said David Roberts, J.D.’s father. “He told the doctors, ‘I want to do it,’ and he has given himself every shot since then.”
The mentality of wanting to give himself his first shot says a lot about Roberts' character and perseverance. For those close to him, it doesn’t come as a surprise.
“It is obviously really hard, and it dictates a lot of how he lives his life, but he has done a really good job of keeping it in perspective,” Mike said of diabetes and ACL tear. “He doesn’t let it define him in any way.”
Any athlete recovering from injury works closely with the training staff to ensure they take the necessary steps to recovery. For Roberts, open communication with the team’s athletic trainer, Jake Arnold, was key.
“The most important thing for both of us was to develop our communication with one another,” Arnold said. “He has done a great job getting his body back in shape after his injury and I have no doubt he will achieve whatever goals he sets for himself.”
Roberts has more than just maintaining strength in his knee to worry about on a day-to-day basis.
It requires mental toughness and resilience to stay on top of an illness like diabetes.
“His attention to detail at such a young age is unmatched,” Arnold said. “Both with his diabetes, and his knee, J.D. is extremely self-aware about how he is feeling, or what he needs to do to get right.
“You just do not find an athlete who missed an entire season due to injury and is still as committed to bettering himself in every way at such a young age.”
Roberts has become stronger with each obstacle thrown in his path. He has used the adversity he’s faced as fuel, rather than an excuse.
“It is all part of my story, they are all just things I have had to overcome,” said Roberts. “I took my first diabetes shot at 11 and from there I took responsibility for myself and I had to mature faster than most 11-year-olds.”
Despite the bleak days a little over a year ago, the junior has worked hard to be back on the field with his teammates this season.
His father believes the experiences he has had will help craft him into a leader later in life because the little things do not mean a lot to him and it takes a lot to shake him.
“This has given him wisdom that other kids his age may not have,” Mike said. “The ACL is hard, but diabetes is forever.”
The ACL tear could have been an injury that denied Roberts the opportunity to return to form, but the health surrounding his diabetes is what is most important.
Roberts knows he has worked hard to be where he is, and he is prepared to continue moving forward.
“I have overcome so many adversities and I feel that it has really prepared me for the next level,” Roberts said.