Ell Roberson, K-State Quarterback 2000-2003
- 2022 K-State Ring of Honor Inductee
- 2003 Honorable Mention All-American
- 2003 Big 12 Championship Game MVP
- 2002 Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP
- K-State single season touchdown record holder (24, 2003)
- First quarterback in Big 12 history to pass for 5,000 yards and rush for more than 2,500 in a career
I'm talking with the wildcat legend himself, Mr. Ell Roberson. Ell, you’re a product of Baytown, Texas. What was your path to coming to Kansas State?
My high school coach had ties with Iowa, and of course Bill Snyder had ties with Iowa, so they knew each other. I was just looking at different schools, and I knew I wanted to go out of state. I also wanted to give some teams in-state, like Texas and Texas Tech a chance by just visiting to see what they were about. But, I think I had it in my mind that I wanted to go play somewhere out of state. I narrowed my decisions down, and it came down to Arizona, Kansas State and Notre Dame.
On my visit to Kansas State, it was the guys and the coaches and Michael Smith (former K-State wide receiver and coach) – he was a key attribute. He was more like a father figure to me. I've always had a father figure role as a coach. He could relate to a lot of the things that I've dealt with in my life, coming out of Louisiana, so we gelled good together. Just being around the other coaches and the facilities, I saw the growth of the program.
Then watching Michael Bishop and really seeing him play, and seeing how he played, was a lot like I played. So, it just seemed like it was a perfect fit for me to come in and have the opportunity to play early, and then also be able to do the things that I do because that was a lot of the things that he did when I saw him play.
Your whole career you had full comparisons to Michael Bishop. You two were so very similar in style of play.
I watched Michael Bishop when K-State had started showing interest in me, and then I got the chance to go and watch the Big 12 Championship game against Texas A&M. I actually got to see him when I was still in high school. I got to see him work, and I just liked what he did, and what he presented. I liked the kind of things that they ran at K-State, because there's a lot of the things that we ran at my high school. It was just a perfect fit. I recall being in the stands of that game, and within arm’s reach of Michael Smith. I kind of looked down at him and I was like, ‘You know I'm coming to K State!’. This was way early, but I'd already had it in my mind that I was going to come there just because I felt like it was the perfect thing for me because they did a lot of things that I did.
Overall, what was your experience at Kansas State like? Once you hit campus, once you hit Manhattan, what was the experience like?
Ya know, it was really good. I came in the summer right after my senior year. Actually, I came in as soon as I graduated. I came in a little bit early that summer, and stayed with Aaron Lockett, and those guys at their condo. They plugged me in right away with some guys that were up and coming with the next people to play and do something for K State. So, they kind of showed me the ropes and helped me with going to classes early. We drove and did a lot of things, so I kind of got an early jump on what the life was like there and many things a lot earlier than a lot of other players that came in that was in my recruiting class. I kind of had that rapport with those guys.
Comradery in the locker room is so important in football, and you were able to start those relationships from the second you stepped foot there.
Yes, exactly. And it was from the second I got there. I wouldn’t even say for second, it was our recruitment trip. Just being with those guys, it was just more than home, it was a family. When you talk about Bill Snyder Family Stadium, you talk about Manhattan, The Little Apple. It was just a small town. I come from Baytown, which is a small town outside of Houston. It gave me that small town feel where everybody knows everybody there and you just have a big University there.
As far as team wise, we were all together as a team. Absolutely. Everything that we did was as a team. You really didn't have a lot of places to go, but when you did go somewhere, it was a group thing because there was only so many places you could go at the time when I was in that school. It has grown so much from the time that I've been there.
So the first two years you kind of split game time. You got some time, but then it was really that USC (University of Southern California) game your junior year where it really became your team. What was it like kind of going through that process the first couple years and then finally stepping into your own role?
Well, that was kind of part of it. I came from being top player out of Houston, I was the most valuable player out of Houston my senior year, and I was going into a situation where they had (Jonathan) Beasley. Beasley was a great athlete, and he was super smart. He knew the offense. He had been in that system for years, so he taught me a lot. It was just different having to make that adjustment.
I knew I was good. A lot of people knew I was good. The hype was there, ‘The next Michael Bishop,’ and things of that nature. I kind of had to humble myself and really learn as to where I felt like I couldn’t just come in and just go off raw talent. I was at my high school for four years, so I was able to grow into my role, but I had the mentality I could come in and just straight play. I had to learn that there was a lot more than going out there and just strapping on a uniform and just playing. I had to learn how to actually watch film a lot more and do the things that the guys ahead of me were doing. That kind of helped me to become the player that I was. I was able to learn to not necessarily focus on my talent, but also learn things like defenses and what my players around me were going to do and be on the same page with them.
Heading into your senior year, you had a lot of Heisman hype. You were the Offensive MVP for the Holiday Bowl against Arizona State your junior year, and then all the hype your senior year. What was it like going into the season with that focus, but then having to deal through the adversity of getting injured early?
It was tough. That whole summer we had big aspirations. We came up with a great year the year before. A lot of the guys were returning. We had an awesome summer together. We felt like we were that team, you know? We came out blazing and beat Cal (University of Califronia-Berkley). Aaron Rogers was actually the backup quarterback for Cal in that game. We put it on them, and it was really good to open up to show the world that Kansas State is here, and we're going to be a team that can contend for the National Championship. Not only me being a Heisman candidate, but also (Darren) Sproles waiting in the ring for the following year to be one of those guys as well. We started off good, and then I had that injury in one of those games. I broke my hand, and that kind of set us back because we ended up losing that next game to Marshall, which I thought we should have won.
I kind of rushed myself back and in the Texas game, I didn’t have the feeling in my hand. We ran an option, and I didn't feel the ball in my hand! <laugh> We were running an option, and I lost the ball on the pitch. Vince Young came into the game and drove them all the way down the field, and then that was history. That's where he made his mark as far as starting for Texas. So, we had two crucial losses that year, but when you look at how we finished as a team, and the numbers that we put up. Our defense was leading number one as far as scoring, nobody could score on our defense towards the end of the season. With the points we were putting up as an offense towards the end of the season, we could've beat anybody. And we played like that. In the Big 12 Championship people – everybody – wrote us off, and they were talking about they were the best team to ever play in college football. We believed in ourselves. We went out there and got that win, and put them in some hurts to where they couldn't even go and win the National Championship because they were still suffering injuries from that Big 12 game.
People talk about the nineteen-nineties K State defensive teams, but that 2003 defense was just incredible.
Oh, yeah. I came in in ‘99, so I was able to see some of that defense, but it was nothing like the ones our teams had. We were clicking, and the numbers don't lie! <laugh> You put our numbers up to what our defenses was doing, and it made my game better, and our game on offense a lot easier.
Well, it’s hard to believe that nearly 20 years are removed from that December night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the famous Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma. 20 years. That's hard to believe.
Looking back, what are your thought? What’s your memories of that night?
Man. I always tell that story about my dad. He has a story that he tells about how he was taking the shuttle to the game, and he was with some Oklahoma guys. My dad asked one of the guys, ‘what do you think the chances we have today?’ And then one of the older guys said, ‘not a chance in hell’ going into that game. <laugh> He had told me that story, and it really kind of lit a fire under me to think nobody thinks we have a chance in this game. In the speeches that were given before the game, Bill, and Coach Smitty stepped in and had good talks with us.
Like you said, we went through a lot of adversity in the beginning of the season with losing early and pretty much killing our chances to make the national championship. But, we just actually treated that game like our national championship game. We knew that Oklahoma, regardless of if we beat them or not they would be in a national championship game. So, we treated that like our national championship game, regardless of where we went after that game. We knew that a stadium like this, big city like this, this is a game that, if it was a national championship, it would be played in arena like this against the team that everybody says is ‘the best team to ever played college football’.
So we came out thinking that. They jumped out early on us with a touchdown, but we never went to the side. We just had that mentality of ‘let’s continue to do what we did in the second part of our season.’ Nobody could stop us and nobody could score on us. Our defense showed that at the end of that game. And then our offense just showed what we were capable of as well.
It ended up being the biggest win in school history still is to this day.
Oh yes, for sure.
How did it feel to get your name finally on the Ring of Honor at the stadium last year?
Man. That was awesome. It was really humbling for me. It just puts a stamp on the rest of your life, and I'm always tied into the Kansas State History book as one of the top players ever. Just to be remembered, and to be known and recognized by my peers, the people that I shed blood, sweat and tears with, and those I couldn't have done it without. But, the biggest thing for me is just to be able to be living and in good health, to be able to see it, and my family's still alive to come down and enjoy that moment with me: my fiancé and my daughters, and my mom & dad. It was just amazing. I'm appreciative and I'm forever indebted to Kansas State for giving me that opportunity to come and play there, and to be able to have a good enough career to where they honored me as one of the best ever at the University.
Well, it was well deserved.
Yeah. I appreciate it.
So now what are you up to these days? What is Ell Roberson up to in 2023?
I work for a company called Targa Resources. It’s a gas company. I'm a senior corporate compliance trainer for the company. I handle all their OSHA compliance as it relates to training and staying up in compliance with audits and things like that for the Gulf Coast region. So, I just pretty much travel and train my company on safety, compliance, and stuff as it relates to their jobs and their tasks, which I love it. I travel two days out of the week and all my locations are pretty much down I-10. I'm able to work from home, so it's good. It allows me to be off after four to go and do all the things like follow my daughter in basketball and the weekends. It allows me to do a lot of the things and hobbies and stuff that I like to do.
It's a good life.
Yeah, it's a good life.
I’ve been doing a lot of basketball because I’m trying to get my daughter a scholarship at Kansas State one day. <laugh>
There ya go!
She's working hard, and we’re hopeful we can get her locked in somewhere in the next four years. She's going into her freshman year of high school this year. So, that's why we are really focusing on this basketball stuff to get her ready. She has opportunity to start as a freshman and do some really big things for Barbers Hill (High School).
Well, with her dad's athleticism. I'm sure she'll be great!
And then, and then my last question for you, what do you miss the most about Manhattan, Kansas? The Little Apple?
What I miss the most is the people, man. It’s the people. I was blessed to hang around some people that are real big K-State fans for years and years. I had two really close K State families when I was there. I was a small town guy so I fit in really good. I was just able to go through and just hang out and be around just good people everywhere I went. Like when you're in a small town and you're popular and playing a part at K-State, you get a lot of different perks. Food when you go to a place to eat. When you hang out with your friends, they always show you love and things like that. You just miss things like that to where you mean something to a big area like The Little Apple. It’s just like coming home again.
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