Elling, Roberts named DIFCA All-State
Joost Elling and Tim Roberts may both have ended their high school football careers with DIFCA All-State honors and a third straight Henlopen Conference championship, but the two Indian River High School seniors took considerably different paths to get there.
Elling, the anchor of the Indians’ offensive line, is a natural-born football player. In fact, his size and athleticism was first noticed back in Pittsburgh, Pa., around the age of 7, when he was recruited to play Pop Warner, by the mailman.
“Back then, the mailmen recruited us kids,” he said with a laugh.
For the past three years, the Indians’ center has been named First Team All-Conference, before finally making Second Team All-State this season.
“Downstate has 14 votes, and upstate has 31, so just for us to make it is an achievement,” Roberts explained of how difficult it is for smaller southern schools to get recognized. “I think Joost should be first [team].”
According to head coach Ray Steele, Elling has taken more than 1,500 snaps from the shotgun formation during that time, with what he estimated as less than eight of them being “bad snaps.”
That means that more than 99 percent of the time, Elling put the ball exactly where it needed to be. He was also, of course, a major factor in paving the way for the breakout 1,000-yard rushing season of sophomore running back KiAnté Sturgis.
“It feels great to be recognized,” Elling stated. “KiAnté was a really good running back. He gave us a lot of credit and thanked us a lot for all our work. Like Coach Grise told us, the only time a lineman can get in a picture is when they congratulate a running back.” He and Roberts laughed.
Elling’s older brother, Kees, was an All-State lineman for the Indians as a right guard last year and currently plays college football at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
“It’s a huge achievement to get All-State, like my brother did last year. I guess you could say I’m equal to, if not better than him now,” he said of the friendly sibling rivalry.
Joost Elling is looking to continue following in his older brother’s footsteps, by playing at the collegiate level next season, although at this point he has not yet determined where that will be. For Joost Elling, football is in his blood, and that was almost the expectation.
For Tim Roberts, however, not only was his standout senior season not expected by many, but he has never really viewed himself as a “football player.”
“I’m from a family full of girls,” Roberts explained. “I have a bunch of sisters. I’ve always played football, but I’ve never been ‘one of the football players.’ Everyone knew that Spencer [Murray] and Jake [Troublefield] were going to be good football players, growing up. I was always at the beach. I was always the surfer kid on the team.”
After being replaced at safety by then-senior Marquel Knight midway through last season, Roberts had something to prove heading into his senior year and he entered with a chip on his shoulder that fueled his determination to silence his doubters. This past summer, Roberts spent two hours on the beach every day, but he spent it perfecting routes and catching passes.
That chip weighed even heavier when he was passed up to represent the team as a captain at the beginning of the season.
“I remember saying this to my mom, ‘If they won’t let me go out for a coin toss, I’ll make sure the newspapers know who I am. I’ll make sure the people in the stands know who I am.”
“He had something to prove,” commented Elling of Roberts’ mentality throughout the season.
Not only did the fans find out who he was, not only did the newspapers start printing his name, but opposing quarterbacks quickly learned not to throw in his general direction, and opposing defenses quickly learned his number after being burned for touchdowns following one of his crisply-run routes.
On defense, Roberts led the team with 89 tackles (66 solo, 23 assists) and six interceptions — three of which came in a single game against Woodbridge All-State quarterback Logan Wescott. On special teams, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and on offense as a wingback he racked up 23 receptions for 505 yards and four touchdowns, as well as 12 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Whenever IR needed a big play throughout the season, typically Roberts was the one to make it happen — right down to a long pass from quarterback Spencer Murray that set up a touchdown. That score was followed by Roberts’ 76-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Indians new life in the first round of the DIAA playoffs against St. Georges. Roberts had proved a lot of people wrong — maybe even including himself.
“It paid off to work so hard,” Roberts said, summing up his achievement. “It drove me all season.”
Steele offered his thoughts on his graduating All-State seniors. “They’re both outstanding young men, great leaders and excellent students. They work extremely hard to prepare themselves for varsity football year-round.
“I’m very happy the hard work paid off in the form of All-State recognition for them. They’re certainly very deserving, and we’re going to miss them next year. I hope both of them get the chance to further their careers in football at the next level, and I wish them the best of luck.”
Along with their All-State honors, both Elling and Roberts also made first-team All-Conference.
Elling wasn’t the only lineman whose hard work was recognized, however, with right guard Devin Burke and left tackle Tristan Smyth collecting first- and second-team All-Conference honors, respectively. Senior H.F. Wilgus made first-team after switching positions from linebacker to defensive end this year and was also awarded the sportsmanship award.
“Last year H.F., got All-Conference as a linebacker,” Elling explained. “When we switched up the defense this year, he got moved to ‘D-end,’ and he still got first-team All-Conference ‘D-end.’ That’s a huge deal, to switch positions, especially after a year where you made All-Conference.”
Elling and Roberts agreed that Wilgus should have drawn consideration for his play at fullback, as well, but suggested he might have been overlooked because he was utilized more in blocking schemes and didn’t get many carries.
Senior London Tucker also made the first team All-Conference as a linebacker, and senior Jake Troublefield was named to the second team as a tight end. The Indians also had two skill-position players make second-team All-Conference, in senior quarterback Spencer Murray and sophomore running back KiAnté Sturgis. Junior defensive tackle Spencer Sturla was named to the second team, as well.
“London and H.F. should have made [All State],” Roberts asserted. “London Tucker was a really big factor.”
Despite finally putting himself on the map, Roberts may still be getting over looked — now, by colleges. When he and Elling met with a coach from Delaware Valley last week, Roberts said, the coach found it hard to believe that he was the safety with 89 tackles and six interceptions. He seemed impressed by Elling, however, who is also garnering attention to possibly play at Kenyon College in Ohio.
Roberts will have a chance to prove doubters wrong again if he gets selected to play in this summer’s Blue-Gold game. He and Elling are hoping that their All-State selections help draw them consideration for that honor.
“This is a huge step forward for [the Blue-Gold game],” said Elling, whose brother played in the game last June. “But you don’t have to be All-State to make it. The coaches vote on it. It’s not just about great athletes, it’s about great character.”