ORONO, Maine — Once he decided to seriously pursue the goal of playing Division I football, Erwin Roach needed to play a bit of catch-up academically.
He landed in military school, an experience that steeled his resolve to chase his dream.
Through determination and hard work, Roach now enjoys chasing down opponents for the University of Maine.
The fifth-year defensive end will be among 18 seniors recognized Saturday (12:30 p.m. kickoff) when UMaine plays its regular-season home finale against New England rival Rhode Island at Alfond Stadium.
Roach, a defensive end from Bloomfield, N.J., is proud represent the senior class and this team, which is ranked No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“Preparation, attitude definitely plays a big role because everybody looks up to the senior class,” Roach said.
“I’ve always been a person that has the attitude, ‘don’t tell me, show me,’” he added. “I feel like that’s exactly what this football team has done.”
Roach has provided a veteran presence on the defensive line. He has made 22 tackles, including two sacks, as part of UMaine’s four-man rotation at end.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder has appeared in all 34 games dating back to the start of the 2011 season.
“He’s been a first- and second-down guy for us on the edge,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
“He’s a guy who’s accountable and can do his job, play the run and be firm, not get moved,” said Black Bears defensive line coach and former teammate Jordan Stevens.
Roach didn’t start playing football until ninth grade. He was a two-way starter at Bloomfield (N.J.) High School, where he helped the Bengals win two league titles.
He credits coach Mike Carter with helping him develop the proper mentality to succeed on and off the field.
“If you wanted to dream or you wanted to achieve something, he told you exactly what you needed to do,” Roach said. “The best thing about it is, he didn’t sugar-coat it.”
Roach says he also is thankful for the love and support of his mother, Sonya Smith, and his aunt Andrea Smith.
“They were big influences as far as, if you want to achieve this dream, you have to stay focused and stay on the right path,” Roach said.
Once he realized Division I football was attainable, UMaine was showing interest, but he had to shore up his grades. That meant spending a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, where he played football and worked on improving his SAT scores.
Roach found the regimented lifestyle challenging. He nonetheless made the experience work for him.
“It was a matter of being able to discipline myself to do what needs to be done,” he said. “I just tried to stay focused as best as I could, keep myself out of trouble.”
He made the grade and enrolled at UMaine in 2009. Roach saw action as a true freshman, playing in four games behind then-senior Stevens, who is now his defensive line coach.
Roach redshirted as a sophomore because of an injury, but has been a regular ever since. He credits Stevens and former teammates Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston with teaching him how to approach the game.
“Those guys were big influences to me as far as how to work and how to keep getting better,” Roach said.
He is working toward a double major in communications, along with child development and family relations. He is considering pursuing a master’s degree.
“He’s a steady, calm kind of guy,” Cosgrove said. “He’s had a major influence on this campus. He wants to be around young people and influence them in a positive way.”
Roach would eventually would like to work as a guidance counselor.
“If I can help somebody else, give them that motivation, that push to pursue their dreams, I’d love to help them do that because I’m a product of just that,” he said.
Roach admits having matured in many respects during his time at UMaine.
“Maine and Maine football have taught me a lot about myself and I’ve grown a lot,” he said.