Steelers linebacker Elandon Roberts, a proud dad of 3, flips switch from football to fatherhood

Brian Batko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

During Pittsburgh Steelers offseason workouts, Elandon Roberts knows every Sunday morning he'll be on that flight at 6:05 a.m. to Pittsburgh.

It's not exactly a Highway 20 ride back to the ranch, but it is back to business, back to work being one of the hardest hitters in the NFL and a defensive tone-setter for the Steelers. When he's home in Houston for the weekends, the 30-year-old Roberts turns down the knob that makes him a laser-focused linebacker and becomes just another father who knows time is precious with his three children — and does his best to slow down time with daughter Karter, who's almost 5; son Elandon II, 3; and daughter Cali, 11 months.

Whether it's this time of the year or in-season, Roberts doesn't need a phone booth to turn into Superdad. Just the drive home from practice or a game to flip the switch.

"That kind of helps me to decompress and just get my thoughts together," Roberts said. "Because at the end of the day, when I walk in that house, they just see their daddy and wanna play."

This Father's Day, the best gift for Roberts is that now begins a five-week stretch of full-time living with his wife, Tori, and the little ones until the Steelers report to training camp July 24. Roberts and Tori Williams met in college at the University of Houston while the former was playing football and the latter was running track.

You could describe Roberts, a native of Port Arthur, Texas, as an old soul. The same qualities that have allowed him to see eight years in the NFL with a ninth on the way — winning two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots — made him a natural as a dad at 25. He credits his own parents, Eli and Stephanie, for raising him that way along with his older brother and two sisters.

"We're very, very proud of him for his accomplishments, but the main thing is being the family guy that he is at his age," said Eli Roberts, a retired Army sergeant. "He's always had that personality. I never really had to tell him what to do. He's always been mature and never wanted to be behind. He always wanted to be out front — not so you could see him, but leading from the front."

That's what the Steelers got last year in free agency with Roberts, who shakes your hand with a firm grip, looks you in the eye and plays through pain as much as possible. He still doesn't want to hear about the pectoral injury that he braced up and gutted out in the final two games of last season.

Cam Heyward is the unquestioned elder statesman of the entire defense, and especially in the defensive line room. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith command respect among the outside linebackers, while Minkah Fitzpatrick is whom everyone looks to in the secondary. But the revolving door at linebacker for the Steelers since Ryan Shazier's career-ending injury created a void of veteran voices that resonate just as much as it did dynamic playmaking.

"He's a heck of a leader," said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. "I think what really endears him to our team and our defense in particular is he is a contact player. He's always searching it out. He has never shied from it, and I think that fits what Steeler defense is and why guys kind of gravitate to him."

Rookie linebacker Payton Wilson marvels at how fast Roberts can play because of how much he knows about playing at this level. The Steelers drafted Wilson and signed Patrick Queen to a record free-agent deal this offseason, but there's no putting Roberts out to pasture.

If his back-to-back 100-tackle seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Steelers are any indication, he might even be getting better with age. As much as he enjoys being a dad and talking about his kids in the cafeteria or in breaks from meetings, Roberts doesn't treat his position mates any differently despite having at least a couple years on all of them. As a sixth-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2016, he was the youngest player on the roster.

"He tries not to be the old head, so we try not to make him feel too old," laughed third-year linebacker Mark Robinson. "But there's definitely a sense of 'O.G.' I guess you could say."


When it comes to compartmentalizing, Roberts has never found that to be a problem. He locks in on football when he's there, then leans into dinosaurs or cartoons when he's home.

During the season, his family is here with him in the Pittsburgh area. On Sundays in the fall, you can find Karter wise beyond her football years explaining the game to little Elandon, who was watching his dad practice in Miami before he could walk.

"My son will be like, 'Go dad! Go dad!' And she'll tell him daddy's not on the field right now," Roberts said with a smile. "When the defense goes on, she'll start cheering."

And once the game is over, they're all waiting for their dad to call. Whenever possible, he's back in time to put them to bed, then relax with Tori. If the Steelers are on the road or in training camp, he'll handle bedtime through FaceTime.

Roberts also enjoys picking them up from school when he can to give his wife a break. And they both know it's only going to get busier. Karter started doing gymnastics when they moved to Pittsburgh. She picked it up so quickly the instructors were surprised to hear she was new and moved her to an advanced class. Elandon II is wading into soccer, flag football and T-ball. It's also been a thrill for Eli Roberts to watch his son become a sports dad like he was.

"He says Karter, little 'Koko,' is going to be the fastest female in the world," Eli Roberts gushed, with a nod to his daughter-in-law. "I always tell him, 'Tori can outrun you in a minute.' I'd put my money on Tori. Koko, she's got those track legs. She runs around the house and he's so protective. If she falls or gets a scratch, he gets upset."

Elandon hopes his namesake will follow football, too, because of how much he fell in love with the game. But given his athleticism and his wife's, he won't be surprised if his son picks up a different sport and excels. And he doesn't plan on pushing him one way or the other.

"I just want him to do all these things so he can pick," Roberts said. "You never know, he might be a great journalist or something. It's whatever he wants to be."

Be it football, family or just life, Roberts just seems to get it. It's why his coaches and teammates love him. Steelers staffers love him. And surely his kids love him the most, win or lose.

"They're going to be at that door when they see him pull up in the driveway," his own father said. "He turns into that 'daddy mode.' No more 'E-Rob' or No. 50 on the football field. That's dad now, and he's got to have that time with them.

"He doesn't get into a lot of foolish things. He takes responsibility for a lot. If we're talking dads, that joker is my top guy right there. If I had to vote for somebody for being father of the year and saw Elandon's name on there, yeah, he'd get my vote."

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