Roach slated for early playing time

As any experienced coach or even fan will explain, a team counting on production from true freshmen is in serious trouble. That's true across the board in Division 1A college football--and especially so in the brutally tough Southeastern Conference. But due to NCAA scholarship limitations, even the best teams end up playing youngsters. And at Alabama, incoming middle linebacker Freddie Roach will likely be counted on for early depth.

"Inside, that's where I'll play," Roach said. "That's where the big boys are."

Back last February on National Signing Day, Alabama Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush made it clear what he thought of Roach's abilities. "I've looked at linebackers all across the country on film for different schools, and Freddie is as good as I've evaluated--truly outstanding on film. He has all the tools to be an outstanding college player."

Coming from a coach of Torbush's stature, that was effusive praise, indeed. But Roach is a special athlete. "Last season I had close to 160 tackles and five or six sacks--not a whole bunch," Roach understated. "I played a little outside backer, some inside and my freshman year I even played safety. I've been all over the field at linebacker. My sophomore and junior years I was more of a running back type, so I can play there, too."

Shown with half-brother Quentin (red shirt) at last spring's A-Day game, Roach is seen by many as Alabama's next great linebacking prospect.

Referred to by some as the top fullback prospect in Alabama, Roach has the athletic ability to play several positions. But it's inside at the ‘Mike' linebacker position where the Tide coaches think he can excel. "We haven't seen a better linebacker on film this year," commented Assistant Head Coach Kenith Pope last February. "He played both ways and was MVP of his district. Freddie has great instincts, a knack for getting to the football. He's very, very athletic…he has a great burst."

Starring at both basketball and football his senior year of high school, Roach is simply one of those gifted athletes, able to excel at most any sport. But football is his future. "I just try to go out there and have fun," Roach explained. "There are people that try to get mad and all that, but I don't know. Football to me is a fun game. I just want to go out there and make plays. It's all about making plays.

"Of course part of having fun is hitting the other guy pretty hard. I'll give you 100 percent."

His athleticism has many experts predicting early playing time at Alabama. But the pride of Killen, Alabama is taking it all in stride. "I don't see it as pressure, not really," Roach stated. "I'm just going to work out and try to get stronger and see what happens. If it happens, fine, if it doesn't, OK. I'll just get ready to come back next year. It won't hurt me if I don't play right away."

As a high-school senior Roach rushed for 1,277 yards and 18 TDs. He had 194 tackles (just a little higher than his modest estimate), including 23 stops behind the line and six forced fumbles. Roach was a two-time All-State pick and was the American General "Back of the Year" as a senior. A Super Senior selection by The Birmingham News, he was also No. 5 on The Tuscaloosa News 'Sweet Sixteen.' Roach had 155 tackles, 4 blocked kicks, 12 sacks, 1082 yards rushing and 15 TDs during his junior season; 158 tackles, 6 blocked kicks, and 14 rushing TDs as a sophomore. Roach, who helped his team to an 11-2 record his senior year, rushed for over 3000 career yards, and had over 500 career tackles and 11 blocked kicks.

With numbers like those, the Tide coaches have him slotted behind Saleem Rasheed at middle linebacker, hoping to groom Roach to take over when Rasheed eventually departs for the NFL. "I've met Saleem," Roach said. "He and a couple of players went down to watch the (Alabama/Mississippi) all-star game in Mobile. And of course I met with him on my recruiting visit back during the season. If you've got to be behind somebody, he's a good guy to be behind. He's someone I can learn from."

The game itself was won decisively by the Alabama all-stars. But even among the other gifted players that weekend, Roach stood out as one of the most impressive athletes on the field. "All-star weekend was fun; it was a great experience," he said. "We tried to pitch a shutout, but we couldn't quite get there. I played with a couple of guys that signed with Alabama, and we got to know each other a lot better."

Called ‘a great prospect' by Dennis Franchione, Roach will get every opportunity to work himself into the regular playing rotation at linebacker this fall.

Along with Roach, Anthony Madison, Mike McLaughlin, Roman Harper and ‘Juke' King were all-star participants that will be joining Alabama this year. But beyond a chance to bond with some future teammates, the game provided a valuable preview of big-time football action. "It was definitely a lot faster, which helps me out," Roach explained. "It lets me know what to look forward to in college. Hopefully now, the full-scrimmage practices won't be such a big surprise. For the most part it was a really good experience.

"I hadn't ever played a game where everybody on the field was good. It helps you perform and shows what kind of person you are. The game tempo was a lot faster, so it was a real good experience."

Of course with half-brother Tim a former receiver for Alabama (‘96-'99), Roach knows more about college football than the average freshman. "Tim knows I won't get the big head or let anything distract me," Roach related. "He encourages me and tells me to keep my head on straight. Tim's a coach at Coffee High School now, and he's been tied up in camps and things like that. He doesn't have time to get in (the gym) with me.

"He's got me by a few years, so he knows what he's talking about. Of course I know it's going to be tough. That's just part of it. I didn't need anyone to warn me about that."

One older brother will remain in the Florence area, coaching high school football. But Tim isn't the only Roach sibling with extensive football experience, as older brother Quentin (Bowens) will also enroll at Alabama this fall. "Having him on the team will be unique, but I think it'll be a great experience," Roach said. "Of course Quentin weighs about 255 or 260. He's still a little bigger than me. Plus, he's a little shorter. I'm right at 230 now, but I played at 238 last season. I'll probably lose some more. Usually when I start working out I'll lose a little bit and then gain back some.

Interestingly, current plans have Quentin penciled in at blocking fullback, guaranteeing some brother-versus-brother confrontations in practice this fall. "We faced off some my sophomore year of high school," Roach explained. "But I was younger then. It's probably a little different now."

"He may be shocked," Roach added with a laugh. "Younger brother is about to catch up to him. But that will be a fun experience."

Roach has already arrived on campus, enrolling in a course to get an early jump on both academics and conditioning. "I'm just going to hit it full speed," he said. "I'm not worried about the football part--that is just a God-given talent. But I expect to work hardest on my academics.

"I really can't wait. When I get around other talented guys, I just think that makes me that much better. So I'm really looking forward to working with the team."

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