Nov. 24, 2004
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NOTE: This article is one of five profiling the senior class of the 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes. It originally appeared in one of the football game programs.
For every quiet member of the 2004 Iowa football senior class, there’s Matt Roth.
Outspoken. Intense. Enthusiastic. Explosive.
Yes, all of those and more describe the senior defensive end from Villa Park, IL.
At 6-foot-4 and now over 280 pounds, Roth has earned quite a name for himself in the Big Ten and in the nation.
He’s on the watch lists for the prestigious Nagurski Award and the Rotary Lombardi Award, which recognize the best defensive players in the country. He was also named to the Playboy magazine pre-season all-America team.
But these honors are almost expected from the second-ranked Big Ten player in quarterback sacks per game and in forced fumbles.
Now in his fourth full season as a Hawkeye, Roth says that it’s all much easier since he started as the only true freshman on the 2001 Iowa team.
“This is fun,” Roth says of his final year of collegiate football. “Over four years, I’ve built up a confidence working out and through our coaches. I feel this is my year to shine. You can’t do anything you’ve already done. It’s just up to me.
“I feel confident in myself to make things happen.”
That confidence has been building since Roth was four years old, when he forced his dad to let him play on his brother’s kindergarten league team.
“He couldn’t keep me off the field, so he thought, `Well, I might as well let him play,'” Roth said. “I got the snot kicked out of me that year, but I was tough.”
Roth had the same attitude when he came to Iowa after a high school career that made him the Chicago Tribune’s Illinois High School Athlete of the Year.
“Coming in, my goal was to play, play fast and play right away,” he said. “I did that through special teams as a freshman. I was under some pressure to get going, and get my career started.”
Roth says the pressure he felt to excel came from a desire to gain experience competing in the Big Ten and in the nation.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he says. “I came in knowing nothing. The lifting, the weight program, the coaching experience: it can only get better. And I prove it everyday. I’m not one of those guys that gets satisfied and stays at one level. I’m constantly improving.”
“This is fun. Over four years, I’ve built up a confidence working out and through our coaches. I feel this is my year to shine. You can’t do anything you’ve already done. It’s just up to me.”
Matt Roth on his senior year
The linebacker turned lineman says that his work ethic is derived from his father, Tom.
“He started off doing roofing, and then he went into construction. He’s made a pretty good construction business in the Chicagoland area,” Roth said. “The guy works nonstop. I’ve seen him work a whole week straight on a summer home. He pushes me, and my mom’s pretty tough too.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz says his desire is evident.
“When you watched him play in high school, and since he’s been here, one thing you can say is that that guy enjoys playing the game,” Ferentz said. “In some ways, he’s like Bob Sanders. Bob has that love to play. They both have the same energy and speed.
“He enjoys being out on the practice field, he likes being on the game field. I think that’s what he contributes to the group: his desire to play the game.”
Roth’s enthusiasm can cause problems, however. The senior got into trouble last season with off-side penalties.
“I was taught that if a guy moves, you move,” Roth said. “I’m so revved up during the game; I’m just going to go. I’m not on my heels, I’m on my toes. They got me with that, but the rest of the season I didn’t have one off-side penalty.”
Coach Ferentz says that he’s willing to accept a few penalties with all the good Roth is capable of.
“Sometimes with certain players, really good players, some of their attributes that make them really good players are also liabilities. Matt’s one of those guys who’s going to try to get that edge. It’s going to happen.”
The excitement Roth brings to the field often leads people to believe that he plays with a mean streak, which the lineman says is just competitiveness.
“I want to make the plays. I go so hard I just get excited,” he said. “I’m not a cheap player. I think people get the misconception that I’m a cheap player. I’ve never gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty.
“I try to play really intense and really hard. Sometimes people think that I’m wild or out of control. I think I keep it clean. I just play hard and intense.”
After all, Roth says: “I want to hurt the other guy, of course, but I don’t want to do it in the wrong way. I want him to leave for a quarter or a game, but I don’t want to end his season or anything like that.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com