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Game No. 4: ECU 19, UCF 14


Inside Game Day
Saturday, September 26, 2009

By Al Myatt

'Rock' of inspiration

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Rock Roggeman

GREENVILLE — East Carolina football coach Skip Holtz told media at the outset of preseason practice that defensive tackles coach Thomas "Rock" Roggeman was going to be undergoing cancer treatments.

Roggeman asked that his health situation not become a distraction for the team and Holtz indicated his support in respecting those wishes.

But after a 19-14 win over Central Florida in ECU's Conference USA opener on Saturday, Holtz shared that Coach "Rock" had been called upon to deliver pregame remarks to the Pirates.

"I want to give Rock his privacy with what he's going through," Holtz said. "We addressed that at the beginning of camp. With his cancer, they're going to have to increase some of what they're doing. Rock is probably going to be hospitalized Monday. He's got a tough fight."

What did the Notre Dame letterman speak to the Pirates about?

"Being proud to wear the purple and gold," Holtz said.

That was all the ECU coach was able to say about the inspiration provided by Roggeman before the Pirates held the opposition to a season low point production.

"It's emotional for me," Holtz said. "Sorry."

Roggeman joined Holtz's staff at ECU on Dec. 17, 2004. He coached linebackers in 2005 and outside linebackers in 2006. He became defensive tackles coach in 2007 and has remained in that position to the present time.

The Pirate players indicated their respect for Roggeman's contributions to the program and his passion for the game. Roggeman was a Parade All-America selection as a linebacker at Sahuaro High in Tucson, AZ, and his dad, Thomas, Sr., is in the Indiana football hall of fame after coaching on the high school and college levels.

Roggeman was a graduate assistant for the Fighting Irish under coaches Gerry Faust and Lou Holtz before beginning a journey that included staff positions at Murray State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Eastern Michigan, Louisville, Alabama A&M and Alabama State.

Roggeman has spent his playing and coaching career on the defensive side of the ball but his circumstances impact Pirates regardless of their position.

"It was very emotional, an inspiration," said Pirates quarterback Patrick Pinkey, who completed 27 of 40 passes for 293 yards with one touchdown and one interception. "A lot of people don't get the opportunity to do what we do, and what Coach Rock is going through, that's an inspiration to us.

"He's fighting for his life. That's more than the game of football. We're praying for him and we're going to keep giving that determination to win each and every week."

Converted tight end and former quarterback Rob Kass heard the crowd of 43,210 roar after his first career reception, a 13-yard grab on a pass from Pinkney that led to a first-and-goal at the Knights' 2-yard line in the third quarter. Wildcat quarterback Dwayne Harris subsequently overthrew Kass in the end zone and ECU had to settle for a Ben Hartman field goal and a 13-7 lead.

Kass said the catch excited him but Roggeman's effect was even greater.

"I've got goose bumps right now," Kass said. "Coach Rock is just an unbelievable coach. Passionate is not even one-tenth of what describes Coach Rock. His whole life, his whole being in football. We appreciate every ounce that he gives us. We appreciate the emotion that he gives us. ... He is such an incredible coach.

"A lot of people know that he is going through a tough time right now but we know he's fighting it. He's not going to be a distraction for us. If anything, he's a point of motivation for us. Today he gave us a pregame speech. I don't know if I've ever been more excited or more ready to play after that pregame speech."

Pirate defensive end C.J. Wilson was in on a pair of sacks as ECU held Central Florida to its season low point total with the help of five turnovers.

"It was very emotional," Wilson said of the pregame pep talk. "Coach Rock has been here since I got here. He's so vocal. Until you've been around Coach Rock, you wouldn't understand because Coach Rock is a very unique person.

"He's very passionate about football. He loves it. I've never seen another soul in this world that loves football more than Coach Rock. Seeing them take him off the field like that and not knowing if he would be back is very emotional.

"To hear his speech was very emotional. I'm just glad I had a chance to play under Coach Rock."

Running back Brandon Jackson ran 20 times for a net of 88 yards. He, too, credited Roggeman's influence.

"Whenever he sees me, he says, 'Hi,' to me," Jackson said. "He pumps me up before the game. He tells me I'm running hard when I'm running hard. He tells me when I need to improve.

"I just have a great amount of respect for him and the passion he brings to coaching. That's the kind of person you want to play for and the kind of person you want in the program with you."

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09/27/2009 04:55:33 AM


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