Football Coach’s Words Inspire Small School to Lone Section Championship
A pregame speech from head coach Buck Roggeman was a sermon from a football god.
A grown man with traps that stretched neck-to-shoulders and a chest that looked as if it could press a car, his words sailed on scripts from ancient times.
He told stories. He recited poems. He invoked myth.
Sometimes he wouldn’t talk for minutes, simply walking around the locker room in silence looking into our teenaged eyes—asking us for more with a look, demanding we play harder and smarter, more cohesive, with a nod.
He had studied at Stanford. English and linebacking. Buck was not a nickname but his given name. His brother was Rock. His father a football coach. For all we knew, his mom was Joan of Arc.
He told us that when he was a player, “Before games I’d wish the earth would open up and swallow me whole. . . because I knew how much would be required of me during the four quarters that were about to begin.”
We were the Breakers, he told us, named after sets of crashing waves that had, for eons unmeasurable, shaped the land upon which we lived—carving the central coast rocks of California long before any of those Padres (the mascot of our rival, Carmel) ever walked the missionary road to establish their message.
He told us no matter what—whether we were big or small, strong or quick, whether we could throw or catch or kick or just hit—that there was a place for us on this football team.
“Can’t say that about soccer or basketball, men,” he’d told us. “Not about tennis or rock climbing. But you can say it about football.”
Coach Roggeman told us if we trusted the person next to us to do his job—and if that person trusted us to do our job—it did not matter what the other team did.
It did not even matter who the other team was. Not if De la Salle somehow came to stand on the sideline opposite us. Not “if Walter Payton comes back from the dead!”
Seriously, he said that.
“Anybody. Anytime. Anywhere,” he’d bellow off the walls of the locker room and into the air of the Friday night lights. “Nothing outside of us matters.”
And we believed him. It was all about our team, and we dug it.
We 28 high school football players became a Greek Phalanx of strength—individual shields interconnected to form a whole a heck of a lot greater than the sum of our small-town parts would have otherwise—a unified force moving forward with impenetrable purpose.
We would have been a good team without Coach Roggeman. But it was only with his leadership, with his words, I believe, that we achieved something great. The league title and that section championship in the rain were definitely cool—but all these years later, it is something else we remember.
He spoke to us with an eloquence that made it clear we were equal travelers on a worthwhile journey that deserved all we could give.
Though we were boys playing a game, he made us feel like we were men going to battle.
And so we were.