The decision came on Jan. 23 after Roberson wowed the school’s administration and county athletic director Jason Suggs with a sales pitch that was difficult to ignore.
“From the interview process, we think he brings character to our football players that they’ll be receptive to,” South Robeson athletic director Donnie Carter said. “We expect Stephen to instill discipline in our guys and teach them to not only become better football players, but better men.”
Roberson spent the last two seasons on Mark Heil’s staff at Purnell Swett as linebackers coach. He beat out four other finalists for the South Robeson gig, a list that included Swett assistant Jonathan Willis and Rodney Barr, an assistant at Wilson High in Florence, S.C.
“Living in the area, I know South Robeson has good athletes,” Roberson said. “People just have to have patience. It’s going to be a challenge to make an impact and get this thing turned around. It won’t happen overnight, but I think we can have a winner here.”
The 43-year-old Roberson inherits a program with a recent history of futility. The Mustangs have struggled with numbers the last two years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Against in-county rivals over the last six years, South Robeson is 3-19.
Seventy-five players, including the junior varsity, made up the football program in August. That total dwindled to 24 at season’s end.
“I’d like to have 35 on the junior varsity and 35 on varsity,” Roberson said. “With me, once you quit, you quit. You’re done.”
On the plus side, South Robeson has a renovated weight room, new equipment and a rebranded football fieldhouse. In addition to his coaching duties, Roberson will teach three weight-training courses.
“Of course our goal is to win every game, but I just want my kids to play hard for 48 minutes,” Roberson said. “I think knowing how to motivate kids and being a mentor to them is one of my strengths.”
Roberson is replacing Garron Warwick, now an assistant at Red Springs, after an 0-11 season. He is the school’s fourth head coach since 2007.
“Our goal is getting the players to compete … we aren’t worried about wins and losses right now,” Carter said. “The wins will come once Stephen develops drive in these kids.”
Added Warwick: “Stephen’s a great guy and I wish him the best. I know he’ll do a great job.”
Last season, South Robeson’s coaching staff was made up of two paid positions and two volunteers.
“I’ve been told that two full-time assistants are in the works,” Roberson said. “I’ve already talked to Chris (Simpson) and he’ll stay on as an assistant. I’m not sure what Tauris (Baker) will do. I’ll give out official titles during the summer when I see what we’re working with.”
South Robeson opted for a defensive mind without any head coaching experience after failing with Warwick who was just 1-20 in two seasons. Roberson lives in the area and called the defense for the Mustangs in 2008 and 2009 before departing for Pembroke.
“His best attribute is building relationships with the kids,” Swett coach Mark Heil said. “They know coach Roberson cares about them and wants to see them do well. The kids like him.”
Roberson met some of his players for the first time Monday. He’ll evaluate talent over the summer and decide on what schemes best fit his personnel. Roberson prefers a 4-3 defense but admits a 4-2-5 may be more suitable if the Mustangs have more speed than size.
“I’m excited to get started,” Roberson said. “This is a great opportunity for myself and the future of South Robeson football.”
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at firstname.lastname@example.org