Provo • Half glancing down at his phone flooded with messages and half staring down at the scene below him, Aaron Behm took it all in from his perch in the upper section of LaVell Edwards Stadium.
As 63,000 fans came crashing down onto the field, in the chaos of a double-overtime takedown of No. 9 Baylor two weeks ago, Behm, the American Fork High School football coach, knew who was at the center of the pile. His former star Chase Roberts had authored the performance that toppled the Big 12 champions.
At American Fork, Behm had seen Roberts’ knack for stepping into big moments. He had a laundry list of memories. But even Behm couldn’t predict Roberts — in just his second game for the Cougars — was about to become a household name in Provo.
“I’d seen that before,” Behm said of Roberts’ 122-yard, two-touchdown performance. “A lot of our coaches from [American Fork], and people from here, were texting me as we’re all watching the game. We’re just ecstatic for him.”
Roberts started the day as freshman backup. Then he grabbed a back-shoulder touchdown. He threw a trick play for another score. He set up a potential game-winning field goal with 18 seconds left on the clock. He finished the night with 15 targets.
By day’s end, he was being recognized by College GameDay. By week’s end, he was being toasted as the next star receiver to walk through BYU’s doors.
“It was awesome,” Roberts said. “I got to enjoy it and be with my family. Had my friends by my side. But now it is in the past.”
And the future provides a new challenge for the redshirt freshman: dealing with the newfound fame and trying to keep up as BYU’s top receiver.
He currently leads the team in targets (26), catches (15) and yards (223). He has been the leading receiver in each of BYU’s first three games of the year.
It is not lost on anyone that Roberts was supposed to be the fourth-string receiver at the start of the year. But performance and circumstance have made him one of the leaders as BYU chases a 10-win season for the third-straight year.
“It’s not going to be something that gets in my head or anything,” Roberts said. “I’m just going to go out and try to make some plays.”
Those closest to Roberts see a blueprint for the young player to maintain this level of production; it stems back to his high school days.
He was an Under Armor All-American by his senior year and broke records at American Fork. He had over 1,000 yards receiving both in his junior and senior seasons and committed to BYU by the end of his sophomore year.
But Behm said Roberts possessed special confidence even before those accomplishments.
It was a trait Behm noticed six years ago when Roberts was preparing for a playoff game during his sophomore season. He had been playing off-and-on behind some veterans on the roster, but Roberts compelled his coaches to put him in the game. That day, in a play-in game against Roy High School, Behm turned to Roberts to carry American Fork to the next round.
He saw the steady resolve again during his senior season. Roberts was a game-time decision with an elbow injury against Lone Peak High School. Behm wasn’t sure if he would play. But again the team bet on him and he answered with over 200 yards in an American Fork win.
“I love those pressure moments,” Roberts said. “To do it when nobody is expecting it — I feel like that is just what I have lived for and always wanted to do is make those big plays.”
Roberts returned from his mission last season and intended to play early. Injuries in his knee and upper thigh forced him to redshirt, but by the end of the season he was practicing with the receivers.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said he saw early on flashes of what Roberts could become eventually. He made the two-deep depth chart to start the season behind star receiver Puka Nacua. Now he has become just the sixth freshman in program history to have a 100-yard performance.
“When you play football — despite the opponent, the atmosphere and all that — that first big, breakthrough game is that weight off your shoulders,” BYU receivers coach Fesi Sitake said. “Every game brings different challenges. I am not going to say it is going to be a breeze from here on out. But my guess is he has got that game out of the way and it was a good one.”
BYU is now counting on Roberts to up this pace.
He understands he is no longer the no-name kid. The defense knows him and what he can do. But he isn’t worried about that. He is taking the same even-keeled approach.
It is what brought him here. And, he thinks, it might be the same mentality that produces a season full of bigger games.