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The perpetually inquisitive Leach found in Roberts a kindred spirit and could appreciate a man who made a childhood promise to visit all seven continents before his 30th birthday and fulfilled the task. Roberts arranged for a weeklong visit to Lubbock. "I ended up going for two weeks," Roberts says. "The most amazing two-week period of my life." Roberts shadowed Leach as he analyzed game video, hosted high school coaches and dealt with players.
The visit awakened something dormant in Roberts. Despite his achievements, he always considered his greatest accomplishment being named a first-team all-district strong safety as a high school senior. But Roberts gave up football after he was recruited only by tiny Austin College in Sherman, Texas. As he watched Texas Tech coaches work during his visit to Lubbock, he wondered if he might love coaching more than the law. He resolved to examine the possibility that summer.
Alfonso Longoria, Roberts's childhood best friend and high school teammate, had gone into coaching. Longoria had a job coaching at South Carolina's summer camp for high schoolers in 2006. After hearing Roberts rave about his time in Lubbock, Longoria invited him to come along and work the camp as well. Roberts, at the time an summer associate at the Fulbright & Jaworski law firm in Houston, called in sick and flew to South Carolina. Within hours he met Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier and sat in on a defensive meeting. Within days he was hooked. Longoria chuckled as he watched Roberts chide and encourage the defensive backs. "He was coaching his heart out," Longoria says. "He probably didn't even know what he was saying." Roberts and Longoria spent their final night of the camp in the defensive coordinator's office talking schemes, and after they left the office, the pair stayed up until 4 a.m. discussing what they'd learned.
Later that summer, on a flight to Boston, Roberts resolved that after graduation, he would become a football coach. The first thing he had to do, though, was make one difficult phone call: to his parents.
His mother, Gwen, answered. Daron told her, "So, I'm going to be a football coach." Gwen thought it was wonderful that her son might help youth players in his free time. Daron stopped her. "I'm going to do it now," he said. After nine years of higher education, after receiving a degree from one of the world's most prestigious law schools, Daron would begin his professional life as a football coach. He can still hear his mother's next words.
"Kirt!" she cried to her husband. "Get on the phone!"
Once they recovered from the shock, Roberts's parents did not get angry. They did not try to discourage their son. Kirt and Gwen had always encouraged their son to explore, to find his own path. "You can watch TV," Kirt always told Daron, "but all you'll know is what they tell you." Besides, Daron would still have a Harvard law degree. He could afford to experiment.
During his third year of law school he wrote letters to every head coach and defensive coordinator in the NFL and to the head coaches and defensive coordinators at 50 FBS programs. Longoria had advised Roberts to differentiate himself by playing up the Harvard angle, and LSU assistant coach Bradley Dale Peveto had told Roberts he'd have to offer to work for free. He did both in those 164 letters.
Roberts received his share of thank-you-for-your-interest form letters, but not from Herm Edwards, coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, who'd learned from Tony Dungy to look for something unusual in aspiring coaches. As Edwards lined up interns for the Chiefs' 2007 training camp, he came across Roberts's letter. When the phone rang in Cambridge, Mass., in March 2007, Roberts heard the voice on the other end and assumed he was getting pranked. "You're too smart to be a football coach," Edwards remembers saying. "You've got better sense than that. Why do you want to be a football coach? Why do you want to suffer?" Once Roberts realized he was actually on the phone with the coach of the Chiefs, he convinced Edwards he wasn't some sort of sports voyeur or wannabe general manager. Edwards rewarded him with a training camp internship that paid a $2,500 stipend.
Roberts received his law degree on June 7, 2007. He was scheduled to report to Chiefs camp in River Falls, Wis., on July 26, but the first day of camp fell on the final day of the Texas Bar exam, which he had vowed to take. He asked his father if he should request permission to report late. No, Kirt said, the coaches would never take him seriously if he blew off the first day of camp. "You've crossed the Rubicon, son," Kirt said.