The Art of the Game

Whether on the gridiron or at the easel, Tufts’ senior offensive tackle displays unique talents

Justin Roberts on the offensive line

Justin Roberts, the Jumbos’ senior offensive tackle, has an innate ability to express himself without using words. His artwork is in a number of buildings across the Tufts campus, from the president’s house on Packard Avenue to the weight room at the Tisch Sports and Fitness Center. His Instagram account scrolls on and on, displaying a library of work that dates back to grade school.

And on the football field, Roberts’ artistry shows in how he uses technique and attitude to succeed. Despite being undersized, he’s in his third year as a starter on the Jumbos’ offensive line—and he has an appreciation for how the game itself is like a work of art.

“The way it’s organized, the freedom that you have to express yourself, are the same kind of tendencies that you see in art,” he says. “People never really see art and football as connected, but they are intrinsically, because both are great outlets for showing your skills.”

Art by Justin RobertsArt by Justin Roberts
Roberts has been honing his talent in both of these passions since his youth. His family home in Milton, Massachusetts, was full of art supplies, the toys of Roberts’ youth. “My parents weren’t really into video games,” he says. “I did not have the luxury of having a PlayStation. I always spent my time playing with colors—pastels, crayons, anything I could get my hands on really.”

His artistic skill and appreciation grew as the years went on. Riding the subway in and out of town to attend Boston College High School in Dorchester, Roberts was mesmerized by the look, move and flow of graffiti—“waves of art across the city.” He won a Gold Key award for art in high school, and realized he had a special talent when friends—and parents of friends—would ask him to create something for them.

Energizing the Campus

Roberts was recruited by the Jumbos while playing at BC High, where he was a member of Massachusetts Division 1 state championship teams in 2008 and 2011. When it came time to choose a college, he found he loved the Tufts campus and the camaraderie of the Tufts football team. He was even attracted by the school’s “exotic” mascot, Jumbo the elephant.

On the football field, he looked more like a wide receiver than an offensive lineman, but he earned a starting role as a sophomore by combining his athleticism with a battle mentality. “I was probably 210 pounds, going up against 250- to 300-pound guys,” he says. “It’s a fistfight at the line every single time, and you just have to keep punching.”

Early in his Tufts football career, the going was tough. The Jumbos lost the first 16 games he played for the team. He considered quitting. “I was fed up,” he says. “I really started to lose the passion for playing football, because I had pushed myself so hard, only to achieve nothing.”

Asked to join the Tufts basketball team as a walk-on his sophomore year, he jumped at the opportunity. He wanted to feel what winning meant again. On Nov. 13, 2013, Roberts played nine minutes, blocked a shot and made a steal in Tufts’ 113-81 victory over D’Youville at the University of Rochester’s Chuck Resler Tournament, his first win in a Tufts uniform.

Justin Roberts celebrates the football team’s first victory in several seasons back in September 2014. Photo: Kelvin MaJustin Roberts celebrates the football team’s first victory in several seasons back in September 2014. Photo: Kelvin Ma
It helped make him realize that he wanted to share the winning experience with his beloved football teammates. Those moments would come in 2014 as the Jumbos went 4-0 at home, energizing the campus. “It was unreal to see people jumping over the fence to celebrate with us, and the support that people really had for us,” he says. “It was so alive at our games.”

A Sure Eye

Despite a busy schedule as an architectural studies major and two-sport athlete, Roberts works on his art daily, and has sold many of his pieces.

“He has a unique vision of the world, and his surroundings, that he translates into his art,” says Eric Rosenberg, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History who was Roberts’ freshman advisor. “He’s a little bit of an impressionist and a little bit of a realist. He has a very sure eye for what he is looking at and how to make that into whatever it is that he’s doing.”

Roberts will graduate from Tufts in May, hoping for a creative career. He has certainly left his mark on campus artistically. Tufts head coach Jay Civetti asked him to paint a pair of footballs commemorating the 24-17 victory over Hamilton College, which ended the Jumbos’ 31-game losing streak last year. One football sits in the coach’s office, and the other is in the office of Tufts President Anthony Monaco.

That victory stands on its own as one of the top moments of Roberts’ time at Tufts, but he was also deeply gratified by the three other wins at home that followed during the 2014 season, and by the campus’ reaction to the team’s success.

“Art is something that brings everyone together,” Roberts says. “Art in the form of music, art in the form of sports, art in the form of art. It brings people together in a unique and engaging way.”

Tufts football team next plays Amherst at home on Oct. 31 at 1 p.m.

Paul Sweeney, the sports information director at Tufts, can be reached at

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