I really enjoyed the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday Oct 1, 2012. He was passed over by the Razorbacks and other big time schools because of his size but he turned out to be a very special player.
10/1/2012 at 3:14pm
Willie Roaf, the former Pine Bluff Zebra and a recent inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, offered an interesting theory Monday at the Little Rock Touchdown Club as to why he might have been passed over by the Arkansas Razorbacks and other bigger powers and was left to sign with Louisiana Tech back in 1988.
“The Arkansas Razorbacks were still mad about [quarterback] Eric Mitchel going to Oklahoma,” he said, also adding that another Pine Bluff Zebra, defensive tackle Curtice Williams, had chosen OU, as had Little Rock Parkview star tight end Keith Jackson.
So, when the 1987-88 football and basketball seasons rolled around at Pine Bluff, nobody from Arkansas took a look at the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder. Arkansas State tried to recruit him, but Louisiana Tech won out.
More importantly, big-time college recruiters didn’t take a look at Roaf’s dad, Clifton Roaf, a dentist who had played football at Michigan State before a knee injury wrecked his career. One glance at Clifton would have told most college scouts that Will, as his dad called him, had yet to fill out and would likely be mammoth-sized in college, perfect for a tackle with footwork that allowed him to play basketball and rebound well.
His Louisiana Tech coaches kept encouraging Roaf to work hard on the field and in the weight room, and he’d eventually be playing on Sundays, he told the club Monday. Roaf admitted he found that hard to believe early on.
Roaf’s coming out party as a great college offensive lineman came when NFL scouts were looking at Alabama’s dominant defensive linemen Eric Curry and John Copeland, leaders on that great Crimson Tide defense in 1992.
Roaf dominated those linemen that day and was the top offensive linemen taken in the 1993 NFL Draft.
He parlayed that into a lengthy career with the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs, retiring in 2006.
“I was blessed to be able to play so long,” Roaf said. “I wanted to keep playing football as long as I could.”
His late mother was an Arkansas Supreme Court judge, and his sisters achieved great post-graduate success. Roaf admittedly wasn’t keen on the books for a time in high school, but his parents got his attention when they pulled him off the basketball court during his sophomore season when he let his grades slip.
“I had a lot to live up to in my family, so my Ph.D. was in football,” he said.
The overlooking of Roaf by college scouts points to college recruiting not always being a science and how “one stars” turn into NFL superstars while “five stars” get benched in college.
Marion Glover, Roaf’s high school coach, said at the time that big-time schools should be taking a flyer on Roaf, that he was still a work in progress. Roaf showed great quickness in his feet on Joe Ball’s Zebra basketball team, too. He helped the Zebras to a big upset of a California-based prep powerhouse in the King Cotton Classic that senior year.
Roaf said of scouts, “They should have looked at my hands and feet, and looked at my dad’s too.”
But he also believes signing with Louisiana Tech was a blessing. Tech was running a pro-style attack with coaches who had professional experience, and it prepared him for the NFL game.
RELATING TO SAINTS: Roaf is well aware of the New Orleans Saints’ and Arkansas Razorbacks’ struggles. Both, he said, can be attributed to changes at the head coaching position.
The NFL suspended Saints Coach Sean Payton for the season, a result of the bounty award investigation into the team. And, at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino drove his career and motorcyle into a ditch last April.
Roaf, who had predicted the Saints to win 10 games and make the playoffs, says the Saints would more than likely be 2-2 with Payton in charge instead of being in an interim situation. And Petrino would have made a difference for the Hogs, he said.
BIG MAN: Roaf, whose playing weight was 315 pounds at left tackle and who played in 11 Pro Bowls, says he stays active with an hour to ninety minutes of cardio work. He’s had an issue with gout and takes blood pressure medication, and lately has felt some twinges in his back after all the years in the NFL.
He was healthy for all but about half of two seasons in the league.
This week, he’ll stay in Arkansas and visit his family, as well as planning a stop at Pine Bluff High to visit with the current Zebras and coaches.
Though he lives in Orange County, Calif., he keeps up with his high school alma mater, and he knew the Zebras were 4-1 coming off a 24-21 comeback victory over Bryant.
“They’ve got a big game with Lake Hamilton this week,” he added.
Roaf has three teenaged daughters and a son, Dillon, who isn’t interested in football. “He’s into academics,” Roaf said. Roaf’s mother would have been very proud — she had said he wanted Willie to grow up to be a nuclear physicist or a brain surgeon.
FOUR HALL-OF FAMERS: Roaf is one of four native Arkansans in the Hall of Fame. He joined Wilson native Cortez Kennedy in the recent class. Jacksonville product Dan Hampton is another Hall of Fame member, while a second Hall of Famer from Pine Bluff, receiver Don Hutson, was an original inductee in 1963.
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