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Roback grows into leadership role with Eastern

Al Willman
The Detroit News
Brogan Roback, who played for Ron English as a redshirt freshman three years ago, said the atmosphere is significantly different under Chris Creighton.

Ypsilanti — Brogan Roback got to Eastern Michigan four years ago as a four-star quarterback from Maumee, Ohio.

Roback went to Ypsilanti with his sister Paige, who was a standout sophomore volleyball player for the Eagles.

Three years later, it appears as if Roback — now a redshirt junior — and the Eagles are finally hitting their stride.

“I think just overall as a team, it’s a different experience,” Roback said of Eastern’s 5-3 start this season. “But it’s also a great experience. I think it’s something that this program, the university, just everyone’s been dying to see and waiting a long time for. But it feels good. It sets the tone for the rest of the season and how things should be at Eastern Michigan from this day on.”

In Chris Creighton’s first two seasons as head coach, the Eagles won a total of three games. This season, they’ve nearly doubled that — standing only one win short of being bowl-eligible for the first time since 1995. The last bowl appearance for EMU was the 1987 California Bowl, when the Hurons beat San Jose State, 30-27.

Interestingly enough, former EMU coach Ron English is now the defensive coordinator at San Jose State.

Roback, who played for English as a redshirt freshman three years ago, said the atmosphere is significantly different under Creighton.

“Well, Coach E was a great coach,” Roback said. “I had a lot of respect for him. A lot of guys did on the team. However, in the locker room, the feel is completely different. There’s more of a team, more of a family is really how I would put it. Guys are closer. Guys are spending more time away from the facility together, spending more time on the weekends together. (They’re) just looking out for one another and everyone else’s best interests. Everyone wants everyone else, whether it’s in their position or another position, to do well because they know it’s for the greater good of the team.”

As far as EMU’s sluggish start under Creighton, much of which has already been attributed to a complete change of culture, Roback said the Eagles have learned a valuable lesson: They now know how to win games.

“I mean I know the record doesn’t speak for itself, but (Creighton) never got down on us because, and I don’t technically want to say it’s part of his plan, but it kind of worked in that way,” Roback said. “The belief starts building in games, as opposed to how it used to be.

“I think it’s just the belief factor that he instilled in a lot of the guys. A lot of guys come from winning (high school) programs. You know, people aren’t used to losing. So just keeping that (in mind) and not letting anything else take over and just focusing on the task at hand and the big picture.”

Roback missed the first two games this season for violating team rules, essentially hitting rock bottom of ,what was to that point an underwhelming career at Eastern.

“It was devastating for myself, just not to be out there with my teammates,” Roback said. “It wasn’t fair for them to be missing the first two weeks. Even sitting there, I still prepared as if I was playing and starting, just so I could be ready to go and be fresh. I didn’t want to come back rusty. That’s really my mentality. (It) was just to be ready when I needed to go back in there and help the team out as much as I possibly could, because I knew that they were going to be ready. I owed that to them.”

Junior Todd Porter, a transfer from Garden City Community College in Kansas, took the reins, passing for 1,064 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions before leaving with a shoulder injury to his right (throwing) arm at halftime of Eastern’s 28-25 win at Bowling Green on Oct. 1.

“They weren’t going to let me pout or anything like that,” Roback said. “They just wanted to make sure I was prepared, along with everyone else who was ready to go. They still had confidence in me.”

As for helping Porter, Roback said all hands were on deck.

“A lot of people were helping Todd,” Roback said. “Todd did a very good job. He’s a good quarterback.”

Roback, who orchestrated Eastern’s winning drive a week earlier against Wyoming, replaced Porter in the second half against Bowling Green, leading the Eagles to another win.

Roback has been seemingly a quarterback reborn, throwing for 1,059 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions this season.

“It’s been incredible,” offensive lineman Cole Gardner said. “He’s been really able to be calm in the pocket this year and it’s been a huge step for us. Knowing that he’s got the confidence in us to block makes our life a lot easier.”

Off the field, Gardner said Roback is much more mature than in years past, acting more as a leader for the Eagles.

“You can see that the guys have confidence in him,” he said. “After the (WMU) game, he was the one talking to the team saying ‘Hey, let’s go get this thing.’ You can see that he’s taken over.”

And that’s not to say Roback is by any means perfect now. His interception late in the first half of Saturday’s 45-31 loss to Western Michigan in Kalamazoo derailed a drive that could have put Eastern in the lead.

At the time, EMU was down 21-17. WMU was able to add a field goal off the turnover, and led 24-17 at the half.

“That was just one second of the Brogan of old,” Creighton said. “And he’s really done a great job of that. In a good way, he was frustrated with it because he knows he’s broken through that.”

So with Roback’s struggles, and subsequent turnaround, is this the best we can expect to see?

“I hope not,” Creighton said. “I really hope that’s not the culmination (of everything). He has just continually gotten better. And I think he’d be the first one to tell you if that ends up being his best, he’d be incredibly disappointed.”

Miami-Ohio at Eastern Michigan

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti

Radio: WEMU 89.1 FM

Records: EMU is 5-3, 2-2 in the MAC. Miami is 2-6, 2-2.

Line: Eastern by 7

Did you know? Miami has 11 players from Michigan on its roster. Sophomore linebacker Junior McMillen (Oak Park), redshirt freshman receiver Nick Marosi (Grand Rapids Catholic Central), redshirt senior Spencer McInnis (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s), redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Sandles (Walled Lake Western), redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan McWood (Birmingham Brother Rice), freshman defensive back Kobe Burse (Muskegon Mona Shores), redshirt junior running back Grant Niemiec (St. Mary’s), redshirt sophomore linebacker Brad Koenig (Ann Arbor Pioneer), senior offensive lineman Collin Buchanan (Southfield), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Matt Skibinski (Livonia Churchill) and redshirt freshman tight end Alexx Zielinski (Brighton).

Al Willman is a freelance writer