Senior defensive end Craig Roh reaches a Michigan-record 51 starts at the onset of the Outback Bowl. Roh remembers one he almost didn't make.
The Wolverines faced Wisconsin during his freshman year, and Roh entered the game nursing a stinger in his neck/shoulder area. The Badgers aren't exactly the team a young defender wants to face at less than 100 percent, the veteran noted.
"If you know Wisconsin's game plan, it's run, run, run, and run again," Roh said. "They were 360-pound linemen, and I was a 230-pound defensive end. I don't think I played great in that game, but I gutted it out, definitely."
He's done so every game for the past four years. Roh attributes his consistency regarding staying on the field to part luck, part providence, and part preparation.
"I've been surrounded by guys who trained with NFL guys," Roh said. "I know, I think, a little bit more than the average person. But a huge part of it is luck, and God just putting a protective shield around me. And, being able to recover from injuries that would have taken guys out of games -- it's a little bit of both."
He recalls very well his first start, getting called into the defensive meeting room with Brandon Herron, and getting the news that his string of starts was just beginning. Roh didn't think of it that way, he assures.
"At that first game, I was not thinking I was going to start for the next four years," Roh said. "I was thinking, I need to practice my best, for the next game, and the next game. Ultimately, living in that present moment is what got me this far.
"I was really excited and nervous. It was really fun."
The veteran insists the fun and the pain have intersected on the football field. He's enjoyed the former and pushed through the latter with a maturing perspective.
One of the more outspoken Christians on the roster, Roh particularly appreciated the perspective message by former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. Dungy spoke to the Wolverines on Thursday morning in Tampa.
"I love Tony Dungy," Roh said. "I've read his book, Quiet Strength. The fact that he's a believer and I'm a believer is awesome. He's been an awesome role model.
"The thing with Tony Dungy is, he puts everything into perspective. Football is just a game. It's a platform to praise God, to show Jesus Christ in the way you play. That's what it is. If you get too wrapped up in achievements, it will ultimately fail you.
"There are those who are at the top, the very tip top, and they're still not satisfied. Ultimately, it's serving people, the people around you, rather than being obsessed with achievement."
That said, Roh assures he's plenty focused on start No. 51, and coming away a winner.
"We came down here to win a football game," he said. "We're going to have some fun, we're going to be on the beach, we'll enjoy the weather, but we're down here to win a football game."
• Roh indulged himself with a playfully amusing take on redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan's long blonde locks. Roh has cut his previously long hair, and enjoys teasing the younger player.
"From behind, he looks like a very strong woman," Roh said. "He has very pretty hair."
When Ryan steps on the field, Roh assured, pretty ends.
"I love the way he plays," Roh said. "He plays like a dog chasing a tennis ball. You throw it in front of him, he's going to get it. He has this switch he throws during games. It's awesome to watch. I can't wait until he gains more weight and gets stronger and faster. He's a guy that I think the sky is the limit for him."
• Roh came in with redshirt junior Taylor Lewan, a fellow native of Arizona. Whether he'll go out of Michigan with Lewan - meaning Lewan opting to jump to the NFL with a season of eligibility remaining - is beyond Roh's scope of knowledge.
"Taylor keeps it pretty deep in there
and I don't think he listens to me all that much, either," Roh said, with a laugh.
• The senior defensive end will take a lot of memories with him when he wraps up his career next Tuesday. The best and most lasting ones, he insisted, involve people.
"There are very special people at the University of Michigan," he said. "They've helped me grow into a man. That's something I'll take with me for the rest of my life."
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