Sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good. A nation of college coaches sure got lucky last month when New Jersey super-recruit Brian Roche had a falling out with his favorite school. The Don Bosco Prep offensive tackle was close to making a commitment to Virginia before an infamous conversation with the Cavalier coaches sent both parties their separate ways. For months Roche had been plotting an early decision in his college recruitment - and for good reason. But now he is taking a far longer horizon that gives many programs time to make their push.
This saga actually began last year, when the junior left tackle watched the recruitment of senior teammate Brian Toal spin wildly out of control. Toal had known for months that he would probably commit to Boston College, but he wanted to enjoy the process of being recruited to its fullest. So the All-American fullback/linebacker allowed coaches to pursue him up to Signing Day. The phone calls were overbearing, but they were child's play compared to the in-home visits that Toal and his family endured.
"There were two or three coaches who sat in their house for maybe seven hours, saying they would not leave until he agreed to take an official visit," Roche said with disgust. "And maybe three hours of that would be total silence, with just the coach and Brian staring at each other. I didn't want to go through anything like that, so I originally thought about making an early commitment."
Those plans led in the direction of UVA, but the 6-foot-5 1/2 lineman has started over and is evaluating a breadth of schools. In addition to Virginia, he holds offers from 35-40 schools. It was not possible for him to name all those offers, but he did list a good majority of them: Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Boston College, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisville, Notre Dame, USC, Stanford and Alabama.
Roche has already taken unofficial visits to eight of the schools on his list - UConn, Rutgers, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, UNC, NC State and Wake Forest.
"I'm going to try to take as many unofficial visits as I can," he says of his upcoming plans. "I will take a trip to the Midwest and likely see Wisconsin, Ohio State, Louisville, Notre Dame and Michigan State. On July 12, I will go down to see Miami."
This week Roche is taking an important trip to the West Coast to see his most distant suitors on The Farm. The plan as of a few weeks ago was to see both Stanford and USC on that western swing, but he has recently subtracted the Trojans from his itinerary.
"There really isn't strong enough interest from them to warrant a visit right now," Roche said.
In the big picture, Roche says that he wants to take all five of his official visits, though they will all have to come after the end of his senior season at Don Bosco. Given that the Ironmen are a near-lock to play all the way to the state championship game, you can do the math that puts his last official trips in January. Thus, there are a good six months still before the prized tackle recruit could have a final college decision. So why all the rush for unofficial visits in the spring and early summer?
"Any school that makes an impression on me, I'll take a look at them," he said. "But around the end of June, I'd like to narrow my list down. I'd like to get it to eight to 10 schools - somewhere around there. That way I can still limit who seriously recruits me in the fall."
Roche says that Rutgers and Miami are recruiting him the hardest, but he is careful to stay away from naming any favorites right now. He is willing to talk about a specific school if you ask him, though, and he has some thoughts on the Cardinal as a college option.
"I really like Coach Cubit a lot," Roche said of the Stanford offensive coordinator and Northeast regional recruiter. "We've talked maybe three or four times. I've also talked with Alex Fletcher, who I met in Texas [at the Army All-American Game]."
"I could see [Stanford] definitely being one of my official visits," Roche said. "I like them a lot. I'm interested to see how they do this fall. An advantage to waiting this out is that I can see how my schools do this year."
Typical recruit-speak when it comes to watching schools play on the field turns to talk of BCS bowls and a national championship. Brian Roche has a balance of criteria, and his threshold for winning is not unattainable.
"I'm looking for a good school, preferably. And one in a good conference where they can be competitive," Roche said. "They don't necessarily have to be a top five team, but top 25 would be nice. The most important thing is the coaches and my relationship with them. That will come out in my visits in the fall."
If you are wondering why all the fuss over this player, you can consider his elite and national offer list. Or you can view his junior film and dig deeper into his on-field abilities.
At nearly 6-6 and 285 pounds, he has the size and frame to be that big tackle college coahes desire, but what most impresses is how quickly he moves at that size. Roche fires off the ball with a great first step, and he makes a powerful impact at first contact. He also pulls like a guard, with great agility and quickness.
"I'm quicker off the ball than almost all offensive linemen, and as quick as most defensive linemen," Roche said. "We do a lot of pass blocking - with a quarterback who went to Rutgers and a wide receiver who went to Boston College. We really threw the hell out of the ball. We run a pretty college style offense. When I look at tapes of the colleges I'm looking at, I see a lot of what we do."
Do not underestimate the value of that pass-blocking acumen. Many kids come into college from run-dominated offenses. They perfected the art of the drive block in high school but have little clue on pass blocking technique and schemes. Roche has a leg up on most of his peers from an experience standpoint, though he also is building physical advantages through his training.
"My strength is another key for me on the field. I feel I'm stronger than most guys, though I know I have a long way to go," said Roche, who benches 325 pounds. "Right now I'm trying to get as big and strong as possible, but the right way. I played at 280 last season but then got with a trainer and dropped down to 250 as we took off all the bad weight. Now I've built back up to a much better 285. The difference between last season and what I can do this year is unbelievable. I think I want to stay at 285, drop a little more body fat and get even stronger."
Roche recorded 50 pancake blocks while grading out at 95 percent blocking as a junior and earned all possible honors up to first-team all-state. The Ironmen and their prolific offense ran the table once again with an 11-0 record, on the heels of a perfect 12-0 season in 2002.
Another rising offensive superstar to watch at Don Bosco is quarterback Matt Simms. The son of New York Giants great Phil Simms, Matt saw his first varsity action last fall as a freshman and will now take over the reins as a sophomore. Don Bosco also has all-world senior Michael Ray Garvin, who dazzles at receiver and cornerback.
Brian Roche carries a 3.6 GPA at Don Bosco Prep and has scored a 1280 on the SAT.