Oct. 14, 2013
By any statistical measure, Southern Miss senior Danica Roberts is having a great season on both the Conference USA and NCAA levels. However, the British-born striker is measuring her last season in Hattiesburg not on goals and points but in experiences.
Despite leading Conference USA and being ranked in the national top-10 in both total goals (12) and total points (27), Roberts is focused more on finishing her college career strong and helping to build a solid Southern Miss program than on racking up individual accolades.
"To be honest, I didn't realize (where I ranked) until a couple weeks ago," Roberts said. "It doesn't matter where I rank individually, really. What matters is that I am enjoying my senior year of football."
It's that love for the sport that has led Roberts to become not only a premier offensive weapon but also vocal leader among the Golden Eagles.
"What she brings to the team is a presence and love for the game that is second to none," Southern Miss coach Mohammed El-Zare said. "She breathes, eats and sleeps soccer. To have a player like that, one who is so invested into playing and learning the game, is amazing. She brings the level of maturity to the game that we seek from all of our players.
"In terms of ability, the numbers speak for themselves. But even beyond the skill and passion for the game, she is doing a tremendous job of guiding our young players in their transition to college, whether on the field or off. She is sort of the mother of the team. She really takes an interest in helping her teammates. I wish I could have more years with her. She has been a great representative of this program and will continue to be a great representative."
With so many young players contributing this year - on Saturday, the Golden Eagles started four true freshmen and one redshirt freshman - that leadership has proven invaluable.
Roberts, a native of West Yorkshire, England, who began her career at Jones County Junior College, says she views molding the next generation of soccer players as simply part of her job.
"I know how difficult it is to adjust," Roberts said. "I flew 4,500 miles to enter myself into Jones County. There were people there who helped me to adjust. Then there were people here at Southern Miss who helped me to adjust. I see it as sort of my duty as a senior to pass on knowledge that they can use."
In two years at Southern Miss Roberts has become an ever-more-complete player and routinely attracts double and triple-teams from opposing defenses. Her production, however, has not regressed.
In 2012, Roberts was the top scorer for the Golden Eagles with six goals. In 2013, she's already doubled that output and added three assists.
"I give a lot of credit to Coach Mo," Roberts said. "His ethics, work ethic and passion for all of us on and off the field has really strengthened us as players. I literally cannot speaker higher of him. From the bottom of my heart, he's an excellent man. I couldn't have asked for a better coach in my senior year."
Nor could the Golden Eagles have orchestrated a more dramatic turnaround. After going 4-12-1 and scoring 17 total goals in 2012, Southern Miss has already produced a 6-5-4 record and scored 38 total goals in 2013.
With five matches to go, the Golden Eagles are still alive in the hunt for the Conference USA tournament and can post their first winning record since 2003.
"The change from last year to this year is brilliant, absolutely brilliant," Roberts said. "Don't get me wrong, it's still going to be a challenge at the end of this year, but I can see where this team is going. Coach Mo is going to get us to a new level. If in the next two or three years, Southern Miss isn't a Conference USA championship contender, I'll eat my hat."
Roberts and the Golden Eagles are on the road this week with C-USA visits to UTSA on Friday at 7 p.m. and Louisiana Tech on Sunday at 1 p.m.