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."
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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.
Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.
Sat, Sep 24, 2011 : 8:35 a.m.
So he had his best game against the clear cut worst team we played so far this year, and he didnt have a great first half, so whats this story supposed to be about? Ooh yeah, guys who continue to under achive, and learn to cry in front of their coaches. Got it.....
Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 2:47 a.m.
I'm just glad the break-down and epiphany happened in Roh's junior year. We can expect bigger things from him as a senior! TiM! Go Blue!
Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 7:41 a.m.
Sounds like the previous staff did not push Craig Roh hard enough, and only now is he getting proper coaching and positional discipline.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.
This article says a lot about our current coaching staff. They know the right way to coach raw high school talent and turn them into great football players. This leads to success in life. Wherever that road may take them. Very well written piece, Kyle
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.
A2.com-Thanks for this story. This is what makes Michigan Football. Go Blue!
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.
This is MICHIGAN Football.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:15 p.m.
This story sounds like some of the stories the 1969 team told after Schembechler took over. Good to hear the young man persevered. Hopefully, his performance gets better and he learned something about himself that will benefit him later in life. I can't help but think that this is an indictment on the competence of the previous coaching staff and lack of team toughness (mental and physical).
David Vande Bunte
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.
Those who stay, will be champions. This is exactly what that message was talking about...you hit the nail on the head, its perseverance. Craig Roh could have taken the criticism, got mad, and got depressed because he thought Mattison was out to get him. He didn't do that though, he took it exactly the way it was intended...constructive criticism designed to motivate him to improve his game. A lot of young men with less personal character would have folded when the expectations on them got raised significantly, but Roh took it as a challenge to meet those expectations, to become a better player. I am proud of him.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.
Players improving through the course of the season. Becoming better football players and better humans. This has been missing the last few years. Congrats to Roh, Hoke, Mattison, and the rest of the staff.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:17 p.m.
Roh is very lucky he was not benched after the first 2 games, because of the way he played! This is how players learn how to be great and succeed. A failure that is understood and recognized and corrected turns into a success. It sounds like Roh may have an even bigger game this coming week. Lets all hope Martin has this same "epiphany" because the 6 tackles in 3 games is not getting it down. As well when you see Will Campbell come in when Martins helmet is needing to be fixed and stuffs a play that Martin has not been all year makes you think, where has that been?! I think Martin is a good player but he is just trying to hard and he needs to let go and react not think. Seeing where all the tackles are coming from is interesting because it is a complete change from previous years. The Secondary players are the best tacklers and have 82 so far while the linebackers have 60 (there are some players individually getting close to that this year on other teams!) and the D line has 37 tackles. It would be great to see the secondary and D line reversed. None the less giving up 13 points to offenses from the MAC that will put some points on the board against other teams is good. And getting 5 turnovers against a very good ND offense is great to see. Go Blue!
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.
Good for Craig. A better man for it. Also, the name "Will Campbell" is coming iup more and more in press conferences. Both Roh and Campbell provide a telling account of how things were NOT the previous years.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:07 a.m.
Presumed failure is sometimes disguised as opportunity to succeed! Great coaches are going to get you there, although the ride is not rosy and fun.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 10:19 a.m.
Way to go, Roh. Glory to Him! Go Blue!