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Published: Friday, 11/1/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

St. John’s product faces tall task

EMU freshman QB Roback likely to take field against Rockets

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Brogan Roback. Brogan Roback.
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The only four-star recruit in Eastern Michigan’s football history is confronted with a five-star challenge.

One week after making his first collegiate start on the road at unbeaten and nationally ranked Northern Illinois, Brogan Roback is coming home for another daunting test.

Roback, the big-armed freshman quarterback from St. John’s Jesuit, is expected to play and perhaps start Saturday when Eastern Michigan travels to the University of Toledo’s Glass Bowl trying to end a seven-game losing streak.

Eastern Michigan offensive coordinator Stan Parrish as of Thursday morning was not prepared to announce a quarterback starter but said “it’s very, very possible” Roback and usual starter Tyler Benz will split series just as they did in last week’s 59-20 loss at NIU.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and can be seen online on ESPN3. Toledo has won six straight over EMU and 12 of 13.

Coaches like to talk about wanting to give young players opportunities to succeed before throwing them into warmer fires. Eastern Michigan coach Ron English does not have that luxury with his prized freshman quarterback. The Eagles are being outscored 331 to 124 in seven games since a season-opening win over Howard and have gotten mediocre production from Benz. Moreover, English is in the final season of a five-year contract and needs to end this season with gusto to convince new athletic director Heather Lyke he’s the man to take the moribund program to new heights.

English, the one-time University of Michigan defensive coordinator, is 11-45 overall and 3-17 since he posted a 6-6 mark in 2011.

Thus, the Brogan Roback era cannot wait in Ypsilanti. At NIU, in his first extended appearance of the season, Roback completed 7 of 17 passes for 109 yards and established a career-high with a 38-yard connection to Tyreese Russell. Roback, who led the offense to field goals in the first and third quarters, did not get a chance to finish. Benz, who started the first seven games, entered early in the third quarter and never left.

Parrish said facing the No. 23 team in the nation was an “acid test” for Roback.

“I was interested to see how he would respond in practice with us helping correct some of the things he did wrong,” said Parrish, Ball State’s head coach in 2009 and 2010. “I think he bounced back very well. He saw some things he can improve upon.”

In five appearances, Roback has completed 14 of 33 passes for 152 yards. He threw an interception last month at Buffalo and is still awaiting his first touchdown pass.

EMU declined to make Roback available for an interview citing the program’s policy banning freshmen of speaking with the media.

Roback’s next challenge promises to be difficult. EMU is a 31-point underdog against a Toledo squad trying to win its fourth game in a row and become bowl eligible. English said he’ll address with Roback distractions playing in front of family and friends, “but I don’t think we’ll harp on it.”

Though a consensus four-star prospect, Roback did not receive major scholarship offers. Toledo expressed minimal interest before securing commitments from out-of-state quarterbacks Logan Woodside and Michael Julian. Several BCS programs came to St. John’s to see Roback practice but left without offering a scholarship. Roback, who threw for 5,887 yards and 60 TDs, chose Eastern Michigan — where his sister, Paige, plays volleyball — over Miami (Ohio).

“He’s a great football player and a young man who has great potential,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said.

English can only hope he’s still around to oversee Roback’s development.

“There’s no question in my mind he can be, and should be, a tremendous quarterback in this league,” English said. “All he has to do, in my opinion, is put the work in on and off the field.”

SPIELMAN COMMITS: UT received a commitment from Noah Spielman, the son of former Ohio State great Chris Spielman. The younger Spielman (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) is a senior at Upper Arlington near Columbus. He projects to play defensive tackle.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.



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