Southwestern’s Kendrick Roberts follows the footsteps of another great Flint native at WMU

February 17, 2011

Jamarko Simmons stands at a ramp that leads into the seating at Waldo Stadium at Western Michigan.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — One sign changed everything.

It overlooks West 12th Street, underneath the Southwestern Academy logo,  and represents a historiic mark. Mark Ingram that is.

The sign reads: “Home of Mark Ingram II 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.”

This set the bar for all aspiring football players attending Southwestern.
Senior wide receiver, Kendrick Roberts was no exception. When Roberts inked his name on the dotted line last week to attend Western Michigan University on a football scholarship this fall, of course Ingram came to mind.

What Roberts didn’t realize is that he’s also following the footsteps of another great wide receiver from Flint who had a great career sporting the Brown & Gold in Kalamazoo as well, JaMarko Simmons.

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Simmons was a graduate of Central High School in 2004 and a four-year starter at WMU. Simmons left in 2008 as the university’s career leader in receptions (260) and the single season record holder in receptions (104) and receiving yards (1,267).

His no. 27 jersey still hangs in the rafters of Waldo Stadium next to all of the other All-Americans that have have battled on the field for the Broncos.

“Everytime I go up there they show me all the banners with all the All-Americans up there so they always tell me I got big shoes to fill,” Roberts said. “Pretty much going up there I just want to be able to fulfill their shoes, do better than they did, and break their records.”

Simmons, 24, is humbled that he is now mentioned with the greats from his university.
“It’s an honor and hopefully Kendrick can go down there and keep that legacy going,” Simmons added.

In October, Simmons signed a contract to play for the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League (AFL). The Sharks start training camp this weekend with their first game on Feb. 28 against the Tampa Bay Storm.

If Roberts wants to replace Simmons’ name in the record books it will be no easy task.
The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Simmons was twice named to the First Team All-Mid-American Conference squad and received All-American nods from both Sports Illustrated and Phil Steele’s College Football. Nonetheless, the staff at WMU likes Roberts’ chances of surpassing the former standout.

“He’s probably a little faster than JaMarko (but) if he has the career JaMarko had we would all be happy,” WMU head coach Bill Cubit said. “I thought JaMarko was a great player here and we’re really excited about Kendrick here. I think he has all the attributes to be a great one.”

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In high school, Roberts usually dominated his peers effortlessly. As a junior, he amassed over 1,000 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Despite hitting the injury bug in his senior year after breaking his hand, Roberts still hauled in 736 yards while scoring eight touchdowns. As Roberts makes the transition to the next level, he will have to raise his play to meet the standards of stiffer competition. Nobody can break down the journey better than Simmons.

“It’s going to be a good experience for him. I talked to coach and he was like he’s a real good player,” Simmons confirmed. “He said he reminded him of me coming out of Flint and we was joking along and he was like, ‘You can only handle only a couple of them from Flint.’ But he was saying he’s a real good kid and he looks forward to putting him on the field real soon.”

Roberts will have to take care of business in the classroom as well as adapt to plays rather quickly if he plans to carry on the tradition of Flint athletes succeeding at WMU. The Broncos have no doubt that Roberts will prevail.

“He’s big, he’s fierce, he can catch and he’s a great kid. He’s got all the intangibles and we love him here,” Cubit said. “He’s an outstanding kid with unlimited potential.”

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