Athletes that have been as dominant as Noah Roberts has been throughout his high school career typically make a different kind of first impression.
Whether it’s the height (5-foot-7), glasses or ever-present smile, the Franklin Community senior doesn’t look as though he would be one of the state’s premier tennis players.
Roberts, who has heard it before, just smiles.
Over the course of a conversation — any conversation — he can’t help but smile a lot.
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“Every time I go out there, I hear, ‘You don’t look like a tennis player at all,’” Roberts said in his customary good-natured manner. “Sometimes they misjudge me, I guess, and don’t think I’m as fast as I am.
“I just accept it. It’s kind of beneficial to me sometimes because they underestimate me.”
What opponents detect is that this left-hander with the rocket serve and unconventional topspin means business the instant he walks onto a court.
On Oct. 21, Roberts takes his 23-2 record to Park Tudor High School, host of the IHSAA Boys Tennis State Finals.
It marks the second consecutive season Roberts, the Grizzly Cubs’ No. 1 singles player since the start of his freshman year, has advanced this far. As a junior he was one of eight finalists but lost to Eli Steiner of Leo High School, 6-3, 6-3, in the quarterfinals.
Rodney Snyder, Franklin’s 13th-year coach, isn’t surprised Roberts remains in contention to become the program’s first state singles champion.
Roberts’ four-year record of facing the opposing team’s best player is 82-10.
“Noah spends an awful lot of time hitting tennis balls and working on his game,” Snyder said. “He has very good hands and can hit shots from parts of the tennis court that most people don’t hit.
“And Noah is just a good kid. He’s a fun kid to have around and a great teammate.”
Roberts, an excellent student (4.1 grade-point average), has made a verbal commitment to play men’s tennis at Marian University. The Knights are an NAIA program enjoying another outstanding season after winning 35 of 51 matches over the course of the previous two campaigns.
What Marian is getting is a skilled player who uses being a southpaw to his advantage.
“In my opinion, the strongest part of my game is the serve and the spin on it. And my baseline game,” Roberts said. “On the serve, most people are used to the ball spinning to their forehand from a right-handed serve.
“Me being left-handed, it spins into their backhand, which is typically most people’s weaker shot. They want to hit their forehand the most, so they try to run around (the ball), but it spins into their body and they can’t hit it.”
With Franklin Community Schools observing its fall break this week, Roberts finds himself with no shortage of down time. He plans to work on his game and tend to some classwork before making his way to the Park Tudor courts in eight days.
There’s no doubt he’ll be ready.
“I think after being at the state finals last year that Noah will handle it better. I anticipate him doing very well,” Snyder said. “One thing I’m sure of is he’ll compete, play fair and have fun.”
In Noah Roberts’ world, there are no other options.
“What’s there to be mad about?” Roberts asked, smiling. “There’s always something to be happy about.”
Name: Noah Roberts
Family: Parents, Kathi Gray and Kathy Roberts; brothers, Cody, 24, Dakota, 24, and Luke, 18; sister, McKenna, 18
Favorite TV show: “America’s Got Talent”
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”
Favorite athlete: Tom Brady
Favorite team: New England Patriots