Michigan defensive end Craig Roh goes from tears to 'epiphany' in season's first three weeks
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
For the first time in Craig Roh's football career, someone told him he wasn't perfect.
And told him. And told him. And told him.
He broke down. He eventually hit rock bottom.
"In the first game, I didn't perform that great," Roh said. "I just had that break down after the first game."
The junior has started every game of his Michigan football career, but is switching from linebacker to defensive end this year. He went from being one of the Wolverines' steadiest defenders two years ago to recording zero tackles in the opener against Western Michigan.
The tears followed, a culmination of a difficult few weeks which started with a rugged fall camp that was billed by players as being demanding and physical.
“(I was) breaking down," the Scottsdale, Ariz., native said. "Camp was tough. We went almost every day in full pads. People would be lying if they told you camp was fun."
Making matters more difficult, the defensive line was the most scrutinized position on the team because head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have an expertise in teaching it, and there also is position coach Jerry Montgomery.
Roh? He was singled out at a position that was singled out.
"I’ve been pretty hard on him," Mattison said. "I happen to coach him myself, and so at one point he said, ‘Coach, I’ve never heard that everything I did wasn’t good before,’ and I just said, ‘It isn’t. Not for the level I want you at.’"
That's not something Roh was used to experiencing.
"I’m a perfectionist," he said. "I would like to think that everything I do is perfect, and football is one area where I could be perfect. And once Coach Mattison came in, I wasn’t perfect anymore. I was just completely unperfect in every way, shape or form.”
Roh tried to show outward strength, but was crumbling within.
He bottomed out after the Western Michigan game.
Roh didn't rely much on his roommate, sophomore defensive tackle Quinton Washington, but did lean on his parents and friends. His father was a particular source of strength.
Things began to turn around for Roh before the Notre Dame game in Week 2, when he played much better despite again not recording a tackle.
“The Notre Dame game, I felt energetic, had fun," Roh said of the game, which Michigan won 35-31. “That was like the epiphany.”
“I just kind of had an epiphany about football and life,” Roh said, smiling. "(I realized) I am not perfect and it's OK for me to not be perfect because God has a plan for me.
"After that, it's like any criticism I get from Mattison doesn't tear down my whole entire world. He's just trying to make me a better player. ... Because of that, I came in with a much more positive attitude (last week), even when he does get down on me."
Coaches noticed the uptick in Roh's attitude and performance. Mattison predicted last week Roh would break out against Eastern Michigan.
The high point came on Michigan's first defensive play of the third quarter, when Roh lined up on the left side of the line, made a nifty move to break through EMU's coverage, grabbed quarterback Alex Gillett by the shoulder and thrust him to the ground.
He raised both hands in triumph.
"That was the real release," Roh said.
He finished with five tackles and a sack in the win against the Eagles, and seems finally to be finding his groove. That's good news for Michigan, which faces San Diego State and its star senior quarterback, Ryan Lindley, on Saturday (noon, BTN).
The Wolverines will look to stay perfect — something Roh is not.
He's OK with that.