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Posted on Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 9 a.m.

Michigan defensive end Craig Roh uses his faith and belief to help

By Michael Rothstein


Craig Roh (88) looks on as teammate Taylor Lewan answers questions during Michigan's media day in August. file photo

Craig Roh took the sledgehammer, wielded it in his massive hands and struck down into the concrete with all the force he could muster. Over and over again for nearly a week straight.

The Michigan defensive end turned into a construction worker. Far from his Arizona home and his college campus in Ann Arbor, Roh spent a week in New Orleans last March with other Michigan students, helping to rebuild areas still crushed from the effects of Hurricane Katrina five years ago.

“You only get a week there. You can’t build a whole house in a week,” Roh said. “And these were actually pretty nice houses, so you’d help with one phase of it. The phase that I, and some other guys, helped with was tearing out some stuff.

"Cement. Breaking up tile. Crashing through walls.”

While he crashed through walls as part of Presbyterian Disaster Relief, the experience strengthened Roh's already-strong bond with his religion.

Often in sports, athletes reference God and their faith almost automatically — as the reasons they score touchdowns or beat other teams or remain healthy.

Roh is different. His bond with Christianity runs through every fiber of his life.

“That’s the foundation of my being,” he says.

It started early Missionary trips started when he was in middle school at Paradise Valley Prep. The Roh family headed to Mexico to work with Ywam, a missionary group based in California.

They stayed in a dingy hotel for a week. In the distance, Roh’s father, Fred, said they watched families living in burnt-out cars and cardboard boxes. It was a long way from the upper-class life Roh was used to in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The week started with a 500 square foot concrete slab on the ground. With wood already measured and cut, they were assigned to nail boards together and set up walls for the two-room house they were trying to build.

Through passion, love and hard work, the slab became a house and turned into a home for a family desperately in need of one. Without any of the Ty Pennington glitz, back story and drama of network television, the program hands over the keys to a family that needs it.

“Unlike a lot of service projects, it’s so tangible,” said Fred Roh. “It’s a house.

“…In this neighborhood, it was the third or fourth house they built. It really is an experience for the kids to see the look on the face of this family, with these kids, and they think they are moving into the Taj Mahal. It affects everybody, the parents and the kids.”

It changed Roh.

When he returned home to Arizona, half of his home was without heat. His mother, Cynthia, wanted to buy space heaters until a repairman could make it to their house. Roh scoffed.

“He was like, ‘Mom, these people don’t have any of that,’” Cynthia said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I feel really bad. But can we still go get the space heaters?’

“It really struck him. He’s never been a really materialistic kid anyway. He’s the type of kid that you had to talk him into getting a new pair of shoes.”

Even now, Roh points to that trip when he realized he wanted to spend at least a portion of his life dedicated to helping others.

He doesn’t talk about it a lot and he likes to remember it as just one of the myriad adventures of his life, but he realizes the impact that trip made on him.

“You’d try to communicate with the people,” Roh said. “I was in seventh grade and my Spanish level was not great. They were so grateful.

“It put everything in a different perspective with me.”

An Odd Combination So how does someone so involved in helping others end up as a football player whose main job is to try and hit opponents as hard as possible? Mainly because opportunities for 6-foot-5 centers with no jump shot don’t really exist.

Roh grew up around basketball, although he showed potential when he played on his first Pop Warner football team in third grade. When opposing quarterbacks snapped the ball, he’d break through the line and tackle them as they tried to hand off.

By high school, football became the focus.

“(In) high school we had a big football program and the basketball program wasn’t as large, so really got into football,” Roh said. “I thought I probably could play Division I football, wasn’t sure where or how many offers I’d get.”

He received a lot. Much of the Pac-10 was interested. So was Michigan. Initially, Roh thought he’d end up going to USC, UCLA or Cal because he wanted to leave Arizona, but not go too far.


Michigan's Craig Roh (88) chases down Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell earlier this season. file photo

Then he visited Michigan and the coaching staff “seemed real.”

“Rich Rod, his dad was a coal miner,” Roh said. “Obviously coaches, to a certain extent in recruiting, tell you what you want to hear. But this staff, I felt, told me what was going to happen.

“I had a pretty good chance to play and I really loved the school and the campus.”

Once in Ann Arbor, Roh did what he'd always done before. He immersed himself in the culture of the place, both with football and everyday life.

When he found out he’d start his first game the night before the season-opener against Western Michigan in 2009, he called Cynthia as she boarded a flight to Michigan. Roh started all 12 games that freshman year, making 78 tackles.

This year, bouncing between linebacker and defensive end, Roh had 41 tackles and forced two fumbles.

Meanwhile, he tried to squeeze in daily Bible study, academics and trips to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital to try to fulfill the other, equally-as-important side of his life.

There were times it wore on him. Roh’s father said he and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson both talked to him about the amount he had on his schedule.

But he wouldn’t give up what was important to him off the field.

“We kind of told him you don’t have to do everything all the time,” Cynthia said. “You can do this and work on it and then when you have some time, go do that.

“Don’t get pulled in so many directions.”

Heading South Finding life away from football at Michigan is how he teamed with former men’s basketball player Ben Cronin and others in Young Life, a Christian ministry on the Michigan campus, to go to New Orleans.

Helping others became such a focus for him, he shook off his own health to do it.

“When he went down to New Orleans, he had a bad injury in his groin and I wanted him to come home and get it fixed up because we had really quality medical people here to get it fixed up,” Fred Roh said. “He wanted to go, regardless.

“That groin injury got aggravated more and it lasted all the way up to the beginning of the season, totally affected him training all the way until the season started.”

Roh didn’t care. He wanted to again experience helping others. It’s not for him, he insists — it’s for them. It is for being part of a community and trying to help others rediscover their footing in the world.

In New Orleans, he was able to do that.

And Roh has plans for more after the Wolverines play Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. He said, health-permitting, he's contemplating a trip to Orlando this spring break to help build another home for another family.

It’s just part of who he is.

“The best part was, I’d say, just the community we were with, how everyone would bond toward a greater goal,” Roh said. “Everyone was just so unselfish and it’s when you put people in a place where they are serving, everything just flows.”

Craig Roh is part of communities all over the place — in Arizona, at Michigan, inside Schembechler Hall. And at each place his goal is the same. It is modest and it is noble.

Help. Serve. Make the best of it all.

Michael Rothstein covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Tue, Dec 28, 2010 : 11:46 a.m.

Is it really appropriate to continue focusing on a player's religious beliefs rather than the game being played? The blurring of the lines between professional, college and high school sport with religious beliefs (often fundamental) is turning one of our country's great community-building cultural touchstones into a polarizing and often hostile environment for those who don't share such views. When players use the visibility they have due to their on-field talents to push religious messages they are abusing the function of sport and turning the culture of sport from an inclusive to an exclusive environment for anyone who doesn't share those same beliefs. Faith Nights at stadiums surround people with armies of t-shirt wearing prosthelytizers, locker room chaplains further entrench a lack of diversity in the game, and the ubiquitous thanking of God for every successful play shows an arrogant and absurd belief that a higher power actually intervenes to make one team win and the other lose. It is high time for religion to take a back seat at sporting events. It has no place being the primary message in athletics. Continuing to cater to this spread of faith in reporting undermines the purpose of sport and its ability to bring together our diverse community in a shared cultural event. Let's leave the bible home and stay focused on the ball here.


Tue, Dec 28, 2010 : 10:34 a.m.

Lorain, first I am SHOCKED that I was not included with those dregs of society you took to task! What can I do to "earn" a spot in your Hall of Shame? I have on many occasion asked you to discuss Michigan football as it has been played this fall under the current COACHING staff and EVERYTIME you have refused to engage in a give and take. But I am like Job and I will try again. Special teams? How do YOU rate the play of special teams this fall at Michigan? This is a limited time offer because in one week and one hour and 30 minutes (+/-) DB will hold a news conference to inform us that a change in the position of HC at Michigan is coming. That will make your status in this discussion moot. (tick, tick, tick, tick,..............)


Tue, Dec 28, 2010 : 5:23 a.m.

3 and out, u crack me up. I'm glad u and me are on the same page about RR. I'll just let u do all the writing cause your better at it. Go Blue and come on down Harbaugh!!


Mon, Dec 27, 2010 : 6:33 p.m.

jkf... sounds like the Roh family is a great family and have done a good job raising a quality young man not afraid to talk about and live out his faith. Lorain... sorry to disappoint you, but I've been a huge UM fan ever since my family moved to Flint in 1963 when I was 5. I can honestly say that I have never felt this way about our program like I have this year, after yet another disappointing season under RR and worse beatdowns by OSU, Wiscy, MSU,... and especially when you throw on top of all that the NCAA violations, and RR not taking responsibility or being accountable. I personally have had enough of RR. Call me whatever you want or say whatever you want about people who do not like RR (like we're not "true" fans), but that reflects more about you than us.

3 And Out

Mon, Dec 27, 2010 : 5:25 p.m.

Lorainne and Michboy.... I saw my first game in Michigan Stadium at age Just because I dont support your joke of a coach, does not mean that I dont support our team and am not a fan. For you Koolaid Crowd to point fingers at myself or anyone else who does not support your coach, is ridiculous but par for the course because you people point fingers at everyone who is not your King and blame them for your guys total Lloyd Carr, Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh.... keep talking though... keep will all be over soon.


Mon, Dec 27, 2010 : 3:16 p.m.

I am not surprised at this story about this fine young man! I worked with his Grandfather years ago before Craig was born and apples did not fall far from the tree....His Grandfather would be very proud of Craig and I know is watching every move from the best seat available. I see Craig's picture and see his Grandfathers face in him and delight every time he does well. God bless you Craig and the great tradition of the Roh family, from a friend in GRR.

Lorain Steelmen

Mon, Dec 27, 2010 : 1:48 p.m.

There are a lot of great kids on this team, which reflect the family values, and recruiting efforts, of this coaching staff. And, given time, this staff will improve the defense as well. We are heading in the right direction, and there will be plenty of great seasons ahead. Those that stay, will be champions. The negative anti-UM crowd, such as 3&out Missionbrazil and ERM Ghost will never be satisfied. But then, they are not true UM fans....


Mon, Dec 27, 2010 : 11:35 a.m.

Rational Michigan fans are content with the captain situation the way it is. Mike Martin and D Rob will be good ones next year.


Mon, Dec 27, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

Nice article Michael about a high quality young man.


Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 10:37 p.m.

God bless you, Roh.


Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 9:19 p.m.

Great article!!!!! Worked on a couple of Habitat Homes myself and it does the heart well. Belated Christmas Wishes to ALL and A Blessed New Year!!! GO BLUE!!!

Michael Rothstein

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 7:39 p.m.

Reginald, Yes, that is my hair. Not exactly what I'm going with now but I've been growing it out again. It will be cut soon. And thanks for the kind words on the Roh story.

3 And Out

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 7:36 p.m.

oops...accidentally pasted some additional advertising from the Captains Article that Mike wrote earlier in the year... however. "Whole House Carpet Cleaning" seems to fit the theme in the immediate future in the Big House... lol

3 And Out

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 7:33 p.m.

actually Michboy... that is not quite accurate... they have 2 "permanent captains" and some "rotating game captains".. This is NOT the Traditional Michigan football setup. Not at all. Quotes: At the urging of his senior class - the last full class to have been recruited and played under former coach Lloyd Carr - he will institute two permanent captains in linebacker Mark Moundros and left guard Stephen Schilling and then have two captains rotate from game to game. Shop Local for the holidays Whole House Carpet Cleaning Whole House Carpet Cleaning 5 area Maximum $109.00 Click to view flyer Visit our website Schilling_Stephen_2009CT.JPG Stephen Schilling It was their idea to do two permanent captains before the season and then two game captains throughout the season, Rodriguez said. Which I had never thought of that concept, because I like all the seniors to have the ability to be a game captain and have some ownership of the team. A) Its not good to question 3AndOut. We are on top of just about everything. B) Funny how Rich Rod lies in the comments above... and is like "gee I never thought of that" uh huh....


Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 6:40 p.m.

Mr Out. The traditional captains were reinstated before the beginning of this year. (Moundros and Schilling) How can you not know that?...since you posted on that and every other article this year.

Reginald Brown

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 6:40 p.m.

Great article, thanks, it's awesome to get coverage of a player like Roh. But legit question: is the hairstyle in your author picture current? That's unbelievable!

3 And Out

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 5:05 p.m.

Great story. Craig will be a future team captain, once the traditional captains are reinstituted next season.


Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 4:46 p.m.

Apparently Mr Roh is not Justin Boren's "kind of people". I will take him.

Marshall Applewhite

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

This is a great piece, Mr. Rothstein. Keep up the good work.


Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 4:25 p.m.

I like these kind of stories that remind us that the players are more than just athletes. Some do very good things for their fellow man.


Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 1:15 p.m.

Finally a great article by the Ann Arbor Press. Great Story! In the spirit of Christmas I hope Mr. Roh has a great 2011 season and personally destroys the Buckeye QB next year.


Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 11:22 a.m.

Great job Mr. Roh, you're an inspiration to me personally. Keep a level head and you'll places most only dream of going. May God bless you young man! Go Blue!!!!!! BTW ~ Great article Michael; keep up the good work!

Jim Nazium

Sun, Dec 26, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

Great Job Craig! You are mature beyond your years. It's Great to see young people living their lives the Right Way and not being caught up in the Me First attitude so many folks have today. You are an inspiration to many and I wish you all the luck. I hope you can find a healthy balance between all of your activities and get the most out of all of them and inspire others to do the same. Your parents deserve a lot of credit, remember to not let college make you think you're smarter than them, hehe, it tends to do that to kids your age and it's normal. Good Luck in the Bowl and GO BLUE!!!