Then Andre Roberts would head to Formation at 7:15 a.m. His group would march to breakfast. They would attend class. Another Formation would be held at 12:05 p.m., when everyone would march to lunch. Then there would be class again. That’d be followed by football meetings. Then would come football practice. Dinner came after, and after that, a mandated study period. Lights out came at 11 p.m.
The long, structured day was expected and normal for any football player at The Citadel, a public military school in Charleston, S.C. It’s a world difficult to comprehend “until you experience it,” Roberts said.
It’s also a school that doesn’t normally produce NFL football players.
Just 12 players from the Citadel have ever been drafted by the NFL. The two most recent both play for the Cardinals – Roberts, the wide receiver taken in the third round of April’s selection weekend, and fullback Nehemiah Broughton, who was a seventh-round pick of the Redskins in 2005.
Roberts’ draft status makes his chance of sticking on the roster a virtual lock. Broughton, at this point, is running as the first-string fullback. Both are convinced their time at The Citadel – which is never easy on newcomers, with its “Hell Week” for freshmen and a lifestyle that doesn’t cater to a free-wheeling teenager – puts them in a better place to battle for a place in the NFL.
“Especially when you are faced with adversity,” Broughton said. “Coming from a school like that, with the discipline and hard work, it definitely helps you.”
The Cardinals have a history with the small collection of Citadel pros. Arguably the two most successful Citadel NFL players also played for the Cardinals – running back Stump Mitchell and kicker Greg Davis. Of the 12 draft picks from the school, six played for the Cardinals at some point.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt actually considered attending The Citadel coming out of high school (he eventually attended Georgia Tech). Playing at the school doesn’t guarantee Roberts or Broughton – who is with his third NFL team – success, but Whisenhunt does think some benefits translate.
“It’s demanding and can wear you out,” Whisenhunt said. “If you have done that, it hardens you to finding a way to be successful. And that’s what this league is about. Guys like Nehemiah, guys like Andre, they have been through those battles before.”
Broughton knows about being worn out. While both of Roberts’ parents are retired Army and a high school teammate had gone to The Citadel a year before Roberts – giving him enough insight to what was to come – Broughton just wanted to play close to home.
During that first week on campus, all Broughton wanted to do was leave.
“I was in the coach’s office and he was trying to convince me to stay and I wanted to bail,” Broughton said. “I am happy I stuck with it.”
The Citadel ties run deep. Both are well aware of Mitchell and his big years with their new team (Mitchell is the second-leading rusher in Cardinals’ franchise history). Broughton actually shares an agent with Mitchell and Mitchell was Broughton’s running backs coach in Washington.
Roberts first met Broughton when Roberts was a college sophomore and Broughton returned to the school to work out. Both share an enthusiasm for bringing to the NFL their school’s legacy.
With players from The Citadel, Broughton said, “there’s almost a sacred bond.”
“It’s big that even one person from our school is in the NFL,” Roberts said. “To have two people on the same team, that’s nice.”