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Harris Roberts: Armed and Dangerous
Harris Roberts WEB
Senior quarterback Harris Roberts looks to lead North Forsyth back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Roberts threw for more than 1,000 yards last season. - photo by Brian Paglia

North Forsyth had been running its power running play during spring practice again and again, and quarterback Harris Roberts had been yelling out, "Window! Window!" each time he stood at the line of scrimmage. After several reps, Roberts knew the Raiders defense was getting smarter. It heard Roberts yell, "Window!" and started to anticipate a power run. Time to try something new.

North first-year coach Jason Galt gave the Raiders offense a new play call, the wedge run. Before Roberts broke the huddle, he told the Raiders he wanted to trick the defense. At the line scrimmage, as he surveyed the defense and called out the play signals, he would yell, "Window! Window!" just as he did for the power run. It meant nothing, he told the offense. Run the wedge play regardless.

"If the defense is smart, and they hear the same thing over and over again, and it’s only on a specific play, they’ll think, ‘Oh, I know exactly what they’re doing,’" Roberts said. "I didn’t do it early on, but as we got going during the spring, I would tell them in the huddle, ‘I’m going to call it, but it doesn’t mean anything. Just do what you’re supposed to do.’"

It was a seamless disguise. Roberts yelled, "Window! Window!" The offense ran wedge run. The defense expected power run.

"I thought that was genius," Galt said.

The moment underscored to Galt the cerebral advantage the Raiders have at quarterback. Roberts gives North the most experienced quarterback in Forsyth County and Region 6-6A, a third-year starter who has appeared in nearly 20 varsity games.

"You can’t replace experience," Galt said, "having that leadership on the field, not getting flustered, those type of things."

But in Roberts, the Raiders also have a player uniquely suited to the intellectual demands of the quarterback position — the 6-feet-2, 170-pound senior is in line to be North’s valedictorian. He’s going to take five Advanced Placement courses this school year in economics, environmental science, government, literature and statistics while on the field trying to end the Raiders’ three-year playoff drought.

"I think this year, we’ve got a lot of seniors, a lot of guys who are willing to do what it takes to win," Roberts said. "As long as we execute, we’re going to win some games."

Roberts never set out to be valedictorian entering high school. It wasn’t until after his sophomore year when the opportunity became real. On his last transcript of the school year, his class rank was printed on the top: No. 1.

"Initially, I was just taking some challenging classes and ended up getting A’s," Robert said. "After sophomore year, I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s surprising.’ I thought somebody would be tied with me or something, but nobody was.

"I think [being valedictorian] would be awesome, especially applying to colleges. It just sets you up for a lot of things, gives you a lot of options."

Here’s Roberts’ itinerary on an average day in the fall: school all morning, football practice until 6:45 p.m., home at 7:30 p.m., dinner, homework all night, often a late-snack, then a few hours of sleep.

"It’s tough," Robert said.

Roberts has no secret formula. Trying to balance academics and athletics occasionally leaves him lethargic or distracted. There are times he sits through a monotonous lecture-style class — say history — and fights against his exhausted mind to focus. Often he’ll feel like zoning out to save his energy for football practice, but he knows he can’t.

"It’s really important to be alert so you can learn and make all the stuff stick," Roberts said.

Roberts’ and North’s resume on the field hasn’t been as strong. The Raiders are 4-16 the past two seasons, including a 3-7 season a year ago that began with a promising three-game winning streak and ended in a seven-game losing spiral. North ran the Wing-T, and yet Roberts passed for 1,042 yards.

But those yards were out of necessity. The Raiders would fall behind opponents early, forcing Roberts to throw in predictable passing situations. Under duress, Roberts completed just 48.2 percent of his passes (67-of-139) with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Galt thinks he has the right offense to make Roberts more successful. Though the Raiders will run the ball even more than last season, the Double Wing’s unique blocking scheme should help protect Roberts better. With a simpler offense, Galt said Roberts won’t have to read myriad coverages on defense when the Raiders do throw.

Roberts may throw less, but Galt expects him to complete a higher percentage of passes and throw more touchdowns with his prototypical quarterback height and strong and accurate arm.

"He’s going to be in an offense where when we do throw the ball, he’s going to have a chance to throw the ball down the field," Galt said. "He might only get five or six passes a game, but three of them might be touchdown passes.

"I just really think he’s going to have a season."