Frank Roche walked off the football field at Middlebury College last November following the Jumbos' 35-13 victory in their season-finale thinking his playing career was over.
A 2019 Tufts graduate, Roche was part of a Jumbo football class whose 25 wins during their four years were the most by a class since 1982. However, he had missed both his freshman and sophomore seasons due to a shoulder injury. Though he was proud of the team's success, he felt like his own contribution was incomplete.
|Frank Roche is using an extra year of eligibilty to pursue a Master's degree in teaching and set receiving records on the football field.|
"Although we left the season on a high note as a team, I felt that I personally still had more to prove," he said.
As it has turned out, his best was still to come.
With a desire to continue competing along with a career interest in teaching, Roche decided last January to use an extra year of eligibility that he had available. He returned to the team and is pursuing a Master's degree this fall, taking three classes and student teaching at nearby Belmont High School. And on the field he's delivering one of the all-time great seasons by a receiver in the Tufts program's 145-year history.
Last week at Colby College, Roche caught eight passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns in the Jumbos' 35-10 win. It was the second week in a row that he scored three touchdowns. Also at Colby, he became the Tufts single-season record holder for receiving yard with 866. He surpassed the 20-year old former record of 855 yards set by Jon Troy in 1999.
His performance last week was a continuation of his excellent season, but it was also inspired by family. Frank's grandfather Ned passed away on October 27. With the funeral scheduled for last Saturday, Frank played in the game at Colby to honor his grandfather's memory and had a record-setting performance.
"I was definitely playing for him out there and knew he was watching over me and that I had the support of my whole family," Frank said.
Roche is one of six siblings in a family that has deep roots in nearby Arlington. The family atmosphere that permeates the Tufts football program was important to Frank during the recruiting process and was a main reason why the former Middlesex League MVP chose Tufts.
"Coach Civetti and the other coaches were always consistent with what their message was," Roche said. "The program is a family and everyone is committed to each other."
He found out that was true quickly. Roche had shoulder surgery during the summer before he came to Tufts which wiped out his freshman season. Originally a cornerback for the Jumbos, he was slated for playing time there before his shoulder flared up again during the preseason of his sophomore year. Another season missed. Despite this frustrating start, he stayed involved by attending team meetings and weight training sessions and going to practices.
"One of the things I can really be grateful about with this program is that they keep everyone around whether you're a starter, got cut or injured," he said. "They want you to be involved."
Moved to receiver, Roche returned to the field and had 45 catches for 584 yards and two touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons combined. This year, with the experience and confidence of a college graduate, he has exploded into one of the top big-play receivers in Division III this year. Roche has developed a bond with senior quarterback Jacob Carroll, whose own career was delayed. Carroll was a back-up to Jumbo All-Conference QB Ryan McDonald for three years. Roche and Carroll are linked by their perseverance as well as their go-route connections.
"I have a lot of respect for him sticking it out," Roche said. "It can't be the easiest to sit behind someone for three years and wait your time. He can throw the ball with the best in the league and he's really stepped up this year in a leadership role."
With 22.7 yards per reception, Roche ranks 16th among Division III pass catchers and his 110.8 yards receiving per game is 23rd in the national statistics. He enters today's contest against Middlebury 114 yards shy of the first 1,000-yard receiving season in Tufts history.
Roche was Tufts' nominee for the William V. Campbell Trophy awarded by the National Football Foundation to the American college football player with the best combination of academics, community service, and on-field performance. For three years during his undergraduate career he was a big brother to an elementary school student in Medford. The experience magnified his interest in becoming a teacher.
"My values as a person, and who my role models were, I always looked up to my parents, teachers and coaches who had a big impact on me," he said. "I think any chance you have to impact a young person's life is a great opportunity."
Coaching is also in his future. Roche has stayed involved with the various youth sports teams in his hometown. He also started a bible study group for the football team which meets every Friday after practice where members of the team can share in their faith.
Taking an extra year at Tufts has been beneficial to both Roche and the Jumbos.
"Frank is a quiet leader who goes about his business and sets an example for others," said Tony Fucillo, the receivers coach at Tufts who has mentored Roche. "Along with his performance on the field, his return to the team this year helps show our younger guys how to be a Tufts football player."
Written by Paul Sweeney, Director of Athletics Communications