PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Pre-pandemic on a Saturday afternoon, the Spartan Legion Band would keep the crowd in the groove with a little old school and hip-hop music while the football team would slug it out with rivals from other HBCUs — historically Black colleges and universities.
Southern favorite aromas prepared by vendors and tailgaters would fill the air around Dick Price Stadium while Spartans young and old would show off their green-and-gold apparel for a social event that had the feel of a family reunion.
The Norfolk State University Football program is sidelined because of the coronavirus pandemic, but when play resumes — planned for the spring of 2021– fans will see history in the making.
The school’s first female director of football operations, Katina Roberts, will be on the sidelines.
When the position opened earlier this year, the 44-year-old Norfolk native was hesitant to apply for a job managing the people of a game she’s never played. Movement on the field, direction of play, and the dictionary of terms were all vague to Roberts, who was employed at NSU in the athletics business office at the time.
Director of Football Operations Katina Roberts with (left to right) running back Rayquan Smith, safety Zion Lewis, and coach Aaron Corp (Photo courtesy: Coach Jerry Price)Head Football Coach Latrell Scott quickly drew up a game plan to help Roberts overcome her concerns.
“I told her that we would teach her everything that she needed to know,” said Scott. He started by explaining the various positions and how the players operate as smaller teams within the larger 98-member team.
“The main thing was positions. I would say ‘He is a safety; he is a corner; he’s a quarterback.’ She was like ‘What’s that?’ Everyone knows what the quarterback is and what is a running back, but sometimes we have to group things, players by position,” said Scott.
She landed the job in September and took off running.
“She jumped in with both feet. She’s been a fast learner. She’s starting to learn football terminology, some of the language we speak over here,” said Scott.
From housing, financial aid, football camps, meals, academics, and coordinating with NFL scouts, Roberts handles everything that takes place off the field. Her responsibilities include COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Roberts and the head coach work closely with campus officials on keeping everyone in the football program safe.
The university’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the positive test rate is a low .0068 percent.
“Every morning probably at 4 or 5 a.m., coach Scott and I are sending out reminders: COVID screening, COVID screening, weekly screenings, random screenings — we just had random screenings today,” said Roberts.
Scott said having Roberts in the program has enhanced what takes place on and off the field.
“She sees things that we do not see. She points out things that men would not necessarily see. She’s a mother figure for our kids and she does a tremendous job’” said Scott.
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