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Derek Roback

Football: Tight end to snap 700-day sideline streak Saturday

When life gave Derek Roback lemons, he did what every good quarterback does.

He called an audible.


After almost two years on the sidelines, Roback will take the field Saturday as a tight end. The redshirt freshman from Waverly has not played a snap in exactly 700 days.

The road to lining up at tight end was long, tedious and frustrating at times, but Roback has learned much from his journey.

He was a three-position star at Waverly High School, compiling two seasons as a standout wide receiver before converting to quarterback before his junior year.

He also fared well at defensive back. By then, Ohio coach Frank Solich had seen enough to recruit Roback.

“They offered me the first week of my junior year,” he said. “I had played four games at quarterback, I came to their camp and they said they wanted me then.”

Roback also had offers from Cincinnati, Marshall and four other Mid-American Conference schools. He gave a verbal commitment to play for Toledo, but then mighty Notre Dame came calling. He signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the Fighting Irish, showed up to fall camp and was converted to a full-time safety.

Roback learned he would be redshirted and remembered the team that offered him his first scholarship. Soon after, he decided to return to his home state.

“It’s about the family that you have with your teammates and your coaches and the people at the university,” he said. “All the other stuff is not that big of a deal. You just have to learn that yourself — just learn the hard way.”

But the transition period continued for the Southeast Ohio native. The Ohio coaching staff decided he would be a better fit at tight end after six practices at quarterback in spring camp.

The decision made sense tactically. He was the largest quarterback on the roster at 6-foot-4 and well more than 200 pounds, had an excellent knowledge of the playbook, and was familiar with catching passes.

“He was just a big, athletic guy,” said redshirt junior tight end Jordan Thompson, who played quarterback at Parkway High School. “That’s one of the things you look for in a tight end.”

Roback adjusted well and picked up 34 yards on three receptions in the 2011 spring game. But early in fall training camp, he herniated a disk in his back. He herniated another while lifting weights and then made it a hat trick with another back injury.

“I’ve been getting epidural injections, actually, in my spine,” he said. “I can handle the pain, but I was getting nerve pains down my legs. And that’s a big deal. That’s something that, if I don’t take care of it, it can be permanent damage.”

Four weeks into the season, Roback has been cleared to play. He will line up at tight end but will function mostly as a receiver because he is still an inexperienced blocker. The twisting and turning required to block a defender might aggravate his injury, too.

Despite all the delays and setbacks, Roback thanks God for his opportunity to play and is excited to get back on the field.

“His energy level’s really very high. He’s looking forward to playing, and I think we have him settled in on a position that he’s really going to be able to excel at,” Solich said.

Ohio faces Kent State in the MAC opener. The Golden Flashes (1-3) have the second-lowest offensive production among Football Bowl Subdivision teams, but they played No. 2 Alabama and Kansas State during the non-conference season.

Kent State beat Ohio 28-6 last year to stall Ohio’s run to the MAC championship game.

“The problem with that is that they haven’t had a lot of problems with us over the last couple years,” Solich said. “We always get their best shot, and I’m sure that’s going to happen again.”

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