Eminence coach Brock Roberts has brought excitement to his alma mater but impacting lives is fundamental to his program
By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
EMINENCE, Ky. — Brock Roberts is right where he wants to be. He’s home and loving every opportunity to coach football and change lives in the process.
Never mind that many thought he was crazy to leave a nice assistant coaching job at Martha Layne Collins High School, a Class 5A school, for the professional obscurity he will undoubtedly experience at Eminence, one of the smallest of the small schools competing in Kentucky’s Class 1A.
Roberts faintly chuckles at the reactions when he let it be known he was pursuing his first head coaching job at the school from which he graduated 10 years ago. “A lot of people that I had coached with in college or at other schools said, ‘Man, you can do so much better. Just wait for something better to come open.’”
It wasn’t as if Eminence football was in the doldrums. The last two seasons had seen the Warriors go 7-3 and 8-2 but they had not been competing for district championships. There had not been a playoff win since 2009 but there were three state championships when the Kentucky High School Athletic Association briefly sponsored an 8-man football playoff..
“Someone teased me, I guess they were thinking of 8-man,” Roberts said. “He said, ‘Do they play 3-on-3 basketball over there? Just joking.’ I still get that to this day. I have buddies from all over the state who say, “Eminence? Is that a one-year thing? Are you going to stay there?”
You bet he plans on staying.
He’s home and has injected a new enthusiasm in his hometown and his alma mater.
Crowds are overflowing. “Don’t get me wrong, the bleachers were full before, but now people are standing along the fence,” says senior wide receiver Dakadrian Saunders.
And there’s more. “Coach Roberts implemented a student section. It gives us an adrenaline rush and an advantage,” adds senior quarterback Justin Hedges. “It’s exciting to see the pep section and parents lined up around the field. There’s talk about having a pep bus now for our away games.”
On top of all that, the Warriors have been receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 10 poll and were ranked No. 9 by the new RPI ratings for Class 1A.
It’s like an old-fashioned revival, gridiron style. “I knew there was something different the day the administrators told us he was going to be our coach,” Saunders says.
Roberts says he’s happy that people across Kentucky are taking notice but tries to downplay the rankings. “I am like, ‘We haven’t won anything yet.’” he says. “I want the kids to compete for the district championship. You can be ranked No. 1 in the AP poll and still lose in the first round of the playoffs.”
Roberts says familiarity is the difference he’s brought to the Warrior program. “Me being from (Eminence) has helped a lot. I was born and raised here in Eminence. I graduated (from EHS) in 2009. I went off to college and started coaching. My first job was at (Louisville) Doss. Then I was at Martha Layne Collins, but to be able to come home, I definitely feel like the community has been very supportive. The seniors were in the second grade when I graduated, but Eminence is small, so everyone knows everybody.
“The community has been phenomenal. Just the kids buying in has helped tremendously. They have bought in from the very first day and have done everything I have asked of them.”
Before heading to Frankfort Friday night, Roberts spent much of the week reminding his team that Frankfort’s players are no different than the Warriors and trying to erase a mindset that might have had the Warriors down by two touchdowns before the game started.
“I know my junior year, we were up 8-6 at halftime and we thought we had the game, but then they just took off,” Roberts remembers of the 37-8 Frankfort win.
Friday night, the Warriors left no doubt, striking quickly, then spotting Frankfort an 8-7 lead before pouring it on in a 60-30 win. Eminence was up 33-8 at the half and had expanded the lead to 42-8 entering the final 12 minutes. The Warriors piled up 574 yards of offense, even though Hedges was injured and not available to play.
Saunders put on a show, hauling in a pair of touchdown passes and running for three more. He caught 9 passes for 107 yards and ran the ball 7 times for 110. His personal stats reflect the Warriors’ team numbers on the season. After the Frankfort win, Eminence has 1,516 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground and 1,380 yards and 20 scores through the air. It’s a balance that is rare in high school football.
As for that Warrior excitement? It was on full display Friday as fans filled the visitor bleachers and overflowed to standing along a fence near the Sower Field sideline.
Part of Roberts’ early success undoubtedly comes from remembering his own days as a player under veteran coach Steve Frommeyer at Eminence. “I was a leader in the classroom and that carried over to the football field,” Roberts says. “It was kind of my job to keep everybody’s spirits up. In football, there are going to be times when things go bad. There are times when you are going to be down by 14 points at the end of the first quarter so it was my job to keep everyone’s spirits up and make sure no one was getting down.”
Ten years later, Brock Roberts is still a motivator, but this time, he’s figuring out how to use his limited personnel in the best fashion. He has approximately 30 boys out for the team with 12 of them being seniors. Both are good numbers at the Class 1A level.
“The challenge is developing young athletes,” Roberts says. “Eminence has always had athletes. That’s no secret. It’s one of those deals when I was a student, I didn’t worry about because I didn’t know. But then when I was at Collins, we had 70 kids on the roster. When I showed up for our first practice (at Eminence), it really hit me that wow, there are going to be times we can’t put together a scout offense or a scout defense because we don’t have 22 players to dress, or if we have 22, our fall off in talent is just a huge, huge discrepancy. But I look at it as a glass-is-half-full type of guy. I am going to take the guys that I have, whether it is 15 or 30 kids. … The other team can only put 11 on the field, just like we do.”
But developing athletes isn’t just improving the 40-yard time or the bench press numbers. It’s not just about wins and losses.
Roberts simply tries to impact lives by living his deep Christian faith as he coaches. The wins and losses will eventually fade, but lives can blossom because of a coach’s influence.
“We have the ability to impact so many kids, especially as coaches. We are with these kids for seven hours a day in school and then for three or four hours in practice,” he says. “They are with us more than they are with their parents. They see first hand how we live our lives, some of our morals, some of our values and how we act when things go wrong. When adversity hits and things go wrong, how do we handle that? How do we treat our families? What type of dad am I? These kids are with me 10 hours a day. It’s very important that I practice what I preach. I can’t just tell these kids to live their lives one way and I am living my life in a totally opposite way.”
“He’s really honest and humble. He’s not cocky or arrogant,” says Saunders.
“We have FCA before games and we pray before and after,” Hedges adds.
While an assistant at Collins, Roberts was mentored by the Titans’ head coach, Jerry Lucas, another devout Christian.. “My father passed away when I was six years old,” Roberts says. “My father-in-law (Dave Hamlin, senior minister at Shelby Christian Church in Shelbyville) has been a father figure to me, but Coach Lucas has had a huge impact on my life. I am a Christian man and I have some strong beliefs, but just watching Coach Lucas day in and day out, the way he carries himself, the way he runs his team is phenomenal. He’s the type of guy who is not going to act one way when he’s in front of people and act a totally different way behind closed doors. What you see is what you get with him.
“I can honestly say, and I got close to Coach Lucas when I was at Collins, I don’t think I have heard him use one cuss word.
“He runs his football team to have strong morals and strong beliefs. He doesn’t allow any cussing on his team, even with the coaches. He’s the kind of coach I want to be.”
And there are simple things that Roberts has brought with him. There’s an expectation of effort and a no foul language policy. “If someone violates that, there are immediate consequences,” Roberts says. “You are still dealing with teenagers, who in the heat of the moment let their emotions get the best of them.
“They have heard me say many times during the season, ‘You can get your point across without that language.’ If you have to use that language, it just lets me know you are not confident in yourself.”
Roberts believes there is a correlation between being solid people and solid football players. “I want these kids to be successful human beings,” he says. “The great thing about football is you can learn so many valuable life lessons in the game of football. You experience every emotion. You are going to laugh. You are going to cry. You are going to sense pain. You are going to sense excitement. Every emotion you can think of, you are going to experience in the game of football.
“Teaching these kids life through the game of football is important to me. A lot of these kids don’t have father figures so showing them about life and how to handle adversity is important. In life we know there are going to be things that are not going our way. You are going to lose a family member. You are going to wake up and your tire is flat when you are on a timeline.”
And to Brock Roberts, the rubber meets the road in a Christian life when handling adversity.
It’s about living in accordance with Roberts’ favorite Bible verse. “Have I not commanded you?” he says, quoting Joshua 1:9. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Right now, that’s in Eminence, Ky., for Brock Roberts. “It’s like a new era for us,” Hedges says. “It’s more of an Eminence feeling.”
Roberts admits that Warrior blood “This is home to me,” he says. “People don’t realize Eminence is home to me. It’s where my dad went to school. It’s where my mom went to school. All my brothers went to school there. I went there kindergarten through the 12th grade.”
And Brock Roberts believes it is where the Lord has led him today.
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