Brogan Roback was due at the Detroit Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday, meaning he had to be up and at ’em well before that.
Let’s just say, there was a time not that long ago when a 5:45 a.m. call time would’ve been fantasyland for Roback, who, at the start of his junior season at Eastern Michigan, was suspended the first two games for the old, “violation of team rules.”
Roback doesn’t want to get specific about the rule or rules he violated, but he paints quite the clue.
“I’m sure you can put it together what it was,” said Roback, laughing — as he can, now.
“It was more of a maturity issue on my end, a selfish thing on my end.”
Roback returned for the third game of the 2016 season, and has never looked back — leading Eastern Michigan that year to its first winning season since 1995 and its first appearance in a bowl game since 1987.
In the last two years, he’s cemented himself as perhaps the greatest quarterback in the program’s history, setting records for touchdown passes (57) and yards of total offense (8,876), and he’s second in completions (745) and yards passing (8,653).
Now, Roback is trying for one more benchmark: He could become the second Eastern Michigan quarterback to be taken in the NFL Draft, joining Charlie Batch, who went in the second round to the Lions in 1998. NFL experts have taken to calling him a “sleeper” pick for the later rounds. And even if he’s not drafted, he could be a priority free agent, the way Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush was with the Dallas Cowboys last spring.
“No, it really doesn’t,” said Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton, when asked if the recent buzz about Roback has caught him by surprise. “He’s got a special talent with his arm, and obviously that’s an enormous part of the game playing quarterback. He can make all the throws. He can not only make all the throws, he can do so effortlessly. I think that and his ability to just keep battling and overcoming adversity are his two strengths, and those are two pretty important qualities in a quarterback.”
The Lions’ visit — for which he was joined by two teammates, receiver Sergio Bailey and linebacker Ike Spearman — was his second with a team leading up to the NFL Draft, set for April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas. Last week, he met with the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Thursday, he flew out to San Francisco to visit with his agent, who was busy working on setting up more team visits.
ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE
Really, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock that Roback is on NFL teams’ radars. His size — 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds — is ideal for an NFL quarterback, his arm is a rocket, his feet are an asset, and he’s been a winner at a place where winning long was absent from the lexicon. His 12 wins over the last two seasons at Eastern Michigan are the most for the program over a two-year span since 1988-89, when the team won 13 games.
He’s also been faced with adversity, and handled it at every turn.
He was the team’s primary returning quarterback in 2014, Creighton’s first year on the job. But he didn’t get the starting job. That went to Reggie Bell. Roback ended up redshirting that season, due to a mysterious “facial injury.”
The next year, he had won the starting job from Bell, only to be suspended for the beginning of 2016.
“When I think of toughness, I don’t first think of the physical,” Creighton said. “He and I have had several really hard conversations in my office over the last four years; it has not been easy for him. And the thing I’ll say about Brogan, he never, ever backed down from any of the really hard challenges that came his way. And that, to me, is toughness.
“Most of society nowadays just says, ‘I want to transfer.’ That’s not what he did. He said, ‘I want to win the job back.’ ”
Roback, 23, out of St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, was the first four-star recruit ever to sign with Eastern Michigan, committing to Ron English. He could’ve walked when Creighton came in. He didn’t. He could’ve walked when Creighton gave the job to somebody else. He didn’t.
And now, he’ll go down as one of the greatest Eagles ever.
Still, the adversity didn’t stop after the first two games of his junior year. He endured a tough 2017, in which Eastern Michigan again slipped below .500, thanks to a six-game losing streak in which Eastern Michigan lost all the games by a combined 23 points, three of the games ending in overtime. Then, in his finale, he suffered a fractured fibula that set his professional aspirations back a bit.
He was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January, but had to miss it. He couldn’t compete at the NFL Combine in February.
Finally, he was given the all-clear by doctors a month-and-a-half ago, in time for Eastern Michigan’s Pro Day last month and the NFL club visits this month.
“Any time you get to go showcase not only your talents, go and compete, but at the same time, even just get the juices going getting back on the field, it’s an exciting time,” said Roback, whose sister, Paige, played volleyball at Eastern Michigan, and whose father, William, played football at Western Michigan and Adrian. “If you’re not excited, I think you’re doing the wrong thing, or somebody should check your heart out.”
Even if Roback hears his name on Day 3 of the NFL Draft, or goes undrafted and signs shortly thereafter, there will be work to do. There always is for quarterbacks from mid-major planets such as the Mid-American Conference.
Zach Terrell, Western Michigan’s record-holder at every turn, signed with the Baltimore Ravens shortly after last year’s draft, then was waived a few days later, and wasn’t picked up. Central Michigan’s Rush, slightly less-heralded than Terrell, signed with the Cowboys and figured to be a roster casualty, until he wowed in the preseason and earned a roster spot.
You just never know.
This much Roback does know: If not for the turnaround at Eastern Michigan, for which he was at the forefront, these opportunities wouldn’t be there at all.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Roback, who counts Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford among his idols, said the other day. “Whenever winning comes into play, I think that’s vital to the pedigree of a quarterback, adding to their resume, absolutely.
“The winning brought the attention over — we’ve got some players over here, it’s not the same old Eastern Michigan.
“A lot of the guys along with myself came from winning programs in high school, and we were never used to losing. Five years here, I went through the tough times. Enough is enough, at some point. You just have to take things by the reins and kind of take over.
“Quarterbacks, the great ones, they win. One thing I like to hang my hat on is being able to win.”
Roback cites his leadership, too. As a redshirt senior, he finally was named a captain.
That honor came only one year after he was suspended to start a season — for, well, let’s just call them maturity issues, common for a college kid, but far less acceptable for a college kid leading a Division I football program.
“You always have a choice how to respond to a tough situation,” Creighton said. “He turned that really tough situation into, really, sort of a turning point. And he’s played his absolute best football from that point forward.”