Former Charlotte football star in middle of Yale-Harvard rivalry

Yale plays Harvard in “The Game” on Saturday in Cambridge, Mass., and Morgan Roberts will be right in the middle of things.

Roberts, a sophomore and former Charlotte Country Day star, will start at quarterback for Yale (8-1, 5-1 Ivy League), which is trying to gain a share of the league championship with the Crimson (9-0, 6-0).

“This game is huge, there’s so much tradition to it,” said Roberts. “It’s between two academically rich schools that have been playing each for a long time. It doesn’t have the animosity of a Clemson-South Carolina or an Alabama-Auburn. It’s more about tradition than bragging rights.”

Roberts can make that kind of comparison from first-hand experience.

After leading Country Day to the 2010 N.C. Independent Schools championship, Roberts headed to Clemson. After redshirting in 2011, he had an impressive ’12 spring game for the Tigers, throwing for 149 yards and a touchdown. But, recovering from ankle surgery, he spent the 2012 season deep on the Tigers bench behind starter Tajh Boyd.

That — and what Roberts said was the impersonal nature of being an athlete at Clemson — prompted Roberts to look elsewhere. He had been recruited by Yale coach Anthony Reno when Reno was an assistant at Harvard.

“I took a visit to Yale right after the South Carolina game in 2012,” said Roberts. “It’s such a beautiful campus, I could see it wouldn’t be difficult to be motivated to study and work hard there. And I was looking for a more hands-on situation in my classes. I wanted to have more of a say in my academic life.”

After playing sparingly in 2013, Roberts took over the starting job this season. Directing a spread offense that averages 43 points (fourth in the Football Championship Subdivision) he rallied the Bulldogs from a 21-point deficit to a 54-43 victory against Lehigh in their season opener. He threw for a career-high 405 yards in a 44-30 victory against Princeton. For the season, he’s completed 68.7 percent of his passes for 2,925 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Yet he said he’s thriving first and foremost as a political science major on Yale’s New Haven, Conn., campus.

“At Clemson, you’d be walking with Tajh Boyd on campus, and everybody would be giving him a high five,” said Roberts. “At Yale, you’ve got students who are doing research to cure cancer or doing theorems for math. I’m the starting quarterback, and nobody knows who I am. Everybody is held to a high standard here. There’s more of a balance between academics and athletes here.”

Not that The Game on Saturday (12:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network) isn’t important. Harvard and Yale first played in 1875 and is one of college football’s oldest rivalries. ESPN thinks enough of it that College Gameday will originate from Harvard. The Bulldogs are hoping to stop the 15th-ranked Crimson’s 13-game winning streak, second longest in Division I only to Florida State’s 26-game streak.

“There is absolutely nothing we’d like to do more,” said Roberts.