By Jimmy Kelley
Football is a game of inches. That may sound as cliché as it comes, but in the case of Springfield College, it is also as true as it gets. With a run-heavy offense, the Pride rely on a special group of young men to gain those inches.
But I’m not talking about the running backs.
No, I’m talking about the offensive line or, as they are known in Springfield football circles, “The Roach.” What started as a way to give the offensive line an identity has morphed into a full-fledged brotherhood that connects generations of players with one simple word.
Started in 1987 by then-offensive line coach Rich Mannello, the name originates from the “roach block,” which typically results in the defensive player ending up on their back like a roach who has met its demise. Since its inception, many players have earned the right to call themselves a member of the Roach, a task that is easier said than done.
“To become a Roach, you have to be on the offensive line through two full preseasons, two full offseasons and one spring ball,” said senior Duke Ekblom. “We had guys who were linebackers on day one and linemen on day two, but they have to wait another whole year before they can be inducted. So it’s pretty strict.”
Ekblom entered this season as one of just three active members, with co-captain Mike MacDonald and Scott Leech as the only other active Roaches. Joining the ranks of the Roach this season was junior Billy Smith and sophomores Mike Lombardi and Joe Cianciolo.
While they do get to take pride in the nationally-ranked rushing attacks they lead every year, the Roach also have their own ways of recognizing their accomplishments. Among them are the “King Roach” and “Iron Roach” distinctions.
The King Roach is given to the player with the most “roaches” from the previous game. This player gets to wear a distinctive white jersey at practice to recognize their achievement. Smith is reigning king, something Ekblom was a bit unhappy about.
“Billy got the King Roach this week and got to wear the shirt in the [Roach] picture,” said Ekblom, referring to the annual picture taken by the group. “But I’ve got the most this season, so I’ll get it back.”
The Roach picture has become a tradition that is just as tangible as it is traditional. Coach Mike Cerasuolo, a Springfield graduate and Roach member himself, has every Roach picture on the walls of his office.
“We don’t really go in there too much, but we were in there for like 20 minutes the other day just looking at all the pictures,” said Ekblom. “It’s pretty overwhelming.”
That is the general feeling that surrounds the Roach. One of the newest members of the group, Smith had to present to the panel at this year’s Roach induction dinner why he believed he deserved admission to the brotherhood.
“Getting inducted was probably one of the biggest things to happen to me in life,” said Smith. “You earn it on your own. Yeah, you have your brothers with you, but you really have to decide you’re going to do it on your own. You realize where the glory is with the Roach.”
With the emotional aspects of the Roach come some more light-hearted elements as well. The film session in which the players vote on whether or not a particular block was worth of a Roach is an anticipated event each week.
“Friendships are made and broken in the Roach room,” joked Ekblom. “Just this past week, me and Billy had a solid double team on the end, and it was a clear, clear Roach. But we got voted down.”
Leech was the culprit, according to MacDonald and Ekblom, who called him “ruthless” when it comes to determining Roaches.
“Brutal. No prisoners, no mercy from Leech in the Roach room,” said MacDonald.
The same could be said about the Roach. They’re brutal, they take no prisoners and give no mercy.
Next year will be a new group, but there will still be a King Roach, an Iron Roach and the picture with Cerasuolo and the log from the shady oak tree that fell with the old field house.
And the Roach will go on.