In a 2016 Texas Longhorns recruiting class that didn’t truly gain momentum until last January, the pledge of Baton Rouge (La.) Madison prep linebacker Malcolm Roach on November 6, 2015 was quite a surprise.
After all, the 6’2, 263-pounder wasn’t even known to hold an official offer from the Longhorns and had never visited Austin.
So how did that happen?
“I just knew I wanted to play for Coach Strong and this coaching staff,” Roach said on Tuesday. “I knew Coach Haley when he coached at LSU and we had a good relationship. I just saw we could make a great impact with this freshman class. We had a good one. The class before us had a pretty good class and I believed we would have a good class coming in. I just wanted to help be apart of something and change something around.”
Roach said that Strong reminded him of his father, who was his head coach at Madison Prep and Southern University Lab. After watching Strong coach at Louisville and Texas, he considered heading to Austin something of a no brainer.
So on January 15, Roach finally made his first trip to Austin for his official visit on a huge recruiting weekend for the ‘Horns. An official visit to Columbia to visit Will Muschamp’s new program at South Carolina wasn’t enough to change his mind.
“Who wouldn't want to play at Texas? I feel like it is a great place here and a great place for me and I think I made the right decision,” Roach said.
Lost in the shuffle of the monster National Signing Day for Strong and his staff was the addition of the small-school Louisiana prospect, who had put up incredible numbers at Madison Prep. Over his last two seasons, he recorded 277 tackles, 34.5 sacks, 53.5 tackles for loss, and 12 forced fumbles.
One of the lowest-rated recruits in the class, Roach was a mid three-star prospect who seemed headed for strongside defensive end and possibly defensive tackle as he continued to grow into a body that put on a substantial amount of weight late in his high school career.
However, Strong and Haley, the defensive line coach, had a different plan for Roach — the Fox end position, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker role that has the greatest opportunity to make plays in Strong’s defense.
But with junior Naashon Hughes entrenched as the starter and sophomore Breckyn Hager coming on quickly at the position, Roach had a difficult path to playing time.
An appearance in the opener against Notre Dame prompted Strong to challenge his staff to get Roach and Hager on the field at the same time in a Double Fox package. Roach responded with his first career sack and a big hit over the middle against UTEP to announce his arrival on the 40 Acres.
Against Cal, Roach picked up another sack before starting against Oklahoma State and making six tackles against Oklahoma. His best game of the season came last week against West Virginia — seven tackles, three tackles for loss, and his third sack.
According to Pro Football Focus, Roach is now the No. 8-ranked true freshman in college football, in large part due to his 23 total quarterback pressures on the season.
“I wanted to come in and make an impact right away but I have to say the older guys helped me out a lot,” Roach said. “Chris Nelson, Poona Ford, Naashon Hughes, Breckyn Hager, and Coach Haley really helped me a lot with teaching me how to prepare, watching film, and just teaching me how to prepare for a college football game. I have to say all credit goes to them because without them none of this would be possible.”
A tireless motor and a dedication to his craft should continue to serve Roach well as his career moves forward, likely at the Fox position — he’s too strong of a fit for the role to gain weight and move to another spot.
“Well, I think that Malcolm Roach could really be a star, and the thing about him, he plays so hard, and he plays with so much energy,” Strong said on Monday.
The combination of Hager and Roach is effective enough that the two continue to play together. And make things happen.
“I always say this — just give me Hager on one side and give me Roach on the other side, and I know something is going to happen,” Strong said. “It's going to be good for us sometimes, it may be bad, but it's going to be a collision and someone is going to get hit.”