This is the story of a man and a dream. It’s the story of that dream being realized, and the man finding his life indelibly changed as a consequence.
OK, so it isn’t quite that dramatic in reality. Really, it’s a story about defensive end Craig Roh’s hair. (Or lack thereof.)
The senior showed up to his session with reporters on Tuesday evening looking almost unrecognizable — his flow, the thick mane of brown locks he’d cultivated since the end of last season, was no more.
“Just wanted to get all distractions away and only focus on a Big Ten championship,” Roh said with a wry grin. “So the flow had to go.”
The concept of hair being a distraction deserved some expounding.
“It was too much to deal with,” Roh said. “It was taking up too much of my time. (Redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan’s) flow just lays down perfectly all the time. I have curlier hair, so I’d wake up and it’d be like a huge fro. Then I’d have to put it down, I’d have to put product in my hair. It was just taking too much time out of my life.”
That’s where the premonition comes in. Roh said he dreamt last week about cutting his hair, only to find that fifth-year senior cornerback J.T. Floyd had lopped off his luscious dreadlocks. Roh took that as a sign, and after consulting with his father via text message, he decided to go through with it himself.
Roh still has the hair tie he sometimes used to pull his hair back into a ponytail — “a little something to remember it by,” he said.
Though his teammates may have mixed reactions to Roh’s new look — fifth-year senior offensive guard Patrick Omameh apparently was a huge fan of the mane — they can’t deny how important he is as the leader on the defensive line.
The senior is the only player up front who can boast a wealth of experience, having started since his freshman season. Defensive tackles Will Campbell and Quinton Washington are in their fourth years, but Campbell has never been more than a role player and Washington had almost no playing time to speak of until this season.
The defensive end spot opposite Roh is just as inexperienced. Sophomores Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer both played a significant amount last season, but that experience doesn’t come close to matching Roh’s.
Roh, then, was the natural guy to emerge as the leader of the defensive front, and he’s been doing well in that role. On Monday, Campbell said that the line looks to Roh to make the pre-snap reads before every play, which has been critical to the unit’s development in Campbell’s eyes.
“I knew that me being a senior on the line who’s played a lot, that that was expected of me, to know the defense,” Roh said. “The fact that this has been my second year in the same defense for the first time is actually something that’s great, because you don’t have to learn the defense. You can more pay attention to the offense.”
In that way, Roh is following in the footsteps of the graduated Ryan Van Bergen, who was the one to make the calls last season. (Coincidentally, he also developed quite the flow by the time his senior season rolled around).
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that Van Bergen did a good job of it last season, and that Roh has picked up right where Van Bergen left off as the line’s new leader.
“Craig’s really a sharp guy,” Hoke said. “It helps being smart, because it’s not easy (forecasting play calls) to be honest with you. It used to be easy when I played. You played two defenses and that was it. Now you see a lot of different things and you have to have an intelligence to play.”
Roh’s also stepping into Van Bergen’s shoes in another way, having switched positions before this season to take over the strongside end position that Van Bergen left vacant.
Though Roh has gotten plenty of playing time in his four years, he’s also been quite the journeyman. He started at outside linebacker as a freshman, moved to a hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot as a sophomore, and then became a weakside end last season under then-new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of roads, but thanks to the 12 pounds of muscle Roh added to help make the switch — part of 43 total pounds he’s gained since he was a freshman — he seems to have settled in nicely at his latest spot, even if he can’t be sure that this is the position he’s best suited for.
“The thing is that I’m going to come and work as hard as I can at that particular position, and really it’s just up to God’s plan whether or not that is the best place for me,” Roh said. “But I really do like strongside defensive end a lot, and I think that’s a really good place for me.”
The next mission for Roh the leader to take on is to get the defensive line to address its subpar pressure numbers — the unit has just two and a half sacks for the season, with Roh tallying one and a half of those.
But the senior said he expects it to improve as the season goes on, and if the dream about his hair proves anything, it’s that his abilities as a prognosticator aren’t to be doubted.