Juan Roque (pronounced Ro-kay) is this year's largest Pac-10 lineman. Standing 6'8" and weighing 319 pounds, Juan is described as being Arizona State's best lineman since perennial pro bowler Randall McDaniel (1984-87). Juan was a first-team all-Pac-10 selection in 1995 and this year he is a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. The stunning victory over Nebraska in late September increased his chances considerably. Juan was also named to the 1996 Playboy All-America team and Bob Grieses' 1996 College Football Yearbook first-team All-America.
Juan, because of his 1992 red-shirt year, has already graduated with a degree in Latin American history and is presently taking graduate degree classes. He is a durable player missing only one game back in 1994 due to an ankle injury. Juan is the man responsible for protecting All-American QB candidate Jake Plummer's blind side. Last year, Juan allowed just three sacks in 11 games and led the team in "double finishes", a term for a super block on a defender. Juan is a lineman who prides himself on concentration. He commits an assignment error only once every 60 snaps.
In 1994, Juan started eight games at left guard and two at right tackle. The year before that he started in one game. Juan Benches 445, Inclines 375, Power Cleans 330 from the floor and Leg Presses 900 pounds. He was embarrassed about his Parallel Squat which is possibly 450 to 475. "My form is terrible," he lamented. I laughed and gave him some sympathy. I know how difficult it is for tall guys to squat. I told him I've trained twenty 7-foot plus NBA basketball players over the years. I think he felt better after that.
Obviously, Juan has a great pro career ahead of him. What would it be like to be 6'8", 319 pounds? Some guys are just born lucky, right? Well, I wouldn't be telling you about Juan if he didn't have an inspiring story to tell. It begins in his home town of Ontario, California at Ontario High School.
Juan has always been big and had a huge growth spurt of 5 inches between his 9th and 10th grade year. "I grew so fast that I couldn't even walk for about two weeks," remembered Juan. "My knees were really tender." I asked Juan if his knees were sore just below the patella (knee cap). He said yes and I told him that he had had a common ailment among boys who grow fast at that age called Osgood-Schlatter's Disease. It usually goes away and in Juan's case it "went away pretty fast."
Juan began hanging out with gang members when he was sixteen. He and his best friend didn't join but would hang around this neighborhood gang. "One day," said Juan, "My good friend was shot to death by a gang member. That changed my life. It really shook me up. It made me think about what I was doing with my life. My parents were wise and they too helped save my neck. From that point, I started changing and separating my life from gang members and negative influences." Juan spent last spring speaking to local high-school-aged youth about this and other life experiences.
Juan also credits his Ontario High School football coach, Steve Johnston, for turning him in the right direction. Juan carried a 3.35 GPA and played saxophone in his earlier years. Even today Juan loves music and gets all the latest electronic gadgetry to listen to music. As he turned his life around, he worked hard Benching over 300 and running a 5.1 forty. Colleges came a knocking as Juan made countless all-star teams and was one of the most sought after players in Southern California.
Juan became a member of Bruce Snyder's first Arizona State University recruiting class. Coach Snyder and I coached together back in 1966-67 when we were at the University of Oregon. Now Coach Snyder is in his 5th year at ASU and it appears everything in his plan is falling into place. In addition to Sun Devil Stadium which has held a crowd of nearly 75,000, a new 90,000 square-foot Intercollegiate Athletic Complex has a huge 5,000 square sports medicine center and a massive 6th floor which serves as the headquarters for Sun Devil football. The locker rooms and their state-of-the-art weight training facility are located below ground.
These beautiful facilities played a role in Juan's decision to become a Sun Devil. Arizona State enrolls about 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. This diversity was also appealing to Juan who has majored in Latin American history. "I wanted to study something interesting and I also wanted to know about my roots. I have both Mexican and Indian blood but I also have some German from my Mom's side and French from my Dad's side. Roque is a French name." I then got a history lesson as Juan continued. "The French were forced out of Mexico in 1865 but my family wasn't hurt because they sided with Mexico."
Juan urges all Mexican-Americans to learn about their family history. "Be proud of your heritage. Don't be smug or against other races. Let's all work together. We should not breed hate but think about the good in people. I'm getting married soon and that's helped me to think about what's important in life. My future wife and family are also important. I give thanks to God each day for what I have been blessed with."
The next question for Juan was what he wanted to be when he grew up. He laughed, as intended, and answered, "I want to be a good husband, father and role model. After my career in football, I will be able to give back what I have been given to others." Then with a twinkle in his eye, he added, "To Squat over 500 pounds one day when I grow up."
In regards to being successful, Juan advised, "Listen to those who are important. Too many kids listen to the wrong people. I had a great high school coach and counselor. They kept me going in the right direction. My parents were always a big help and my position coach here at ASU, Dan Cozzetto always helps me.
"I learned not to hang with the wrong people. I had a tough junior year trying to rethink my life in high school. If a buddy tries to get you to do something wrong, he's not really your friend.
"Some of my classmates who got into drugs in high school are now whacko. I had 3 or 4 friends who did the right things in high school and they are doing great now. It's sad to see an ex-classmate on the street looking for their next hit."
Juan has never even thought of taking something like steroids. "I don't need them," said Juan. "God gave me plenty of talent. I always bust my butt in the weight room. I was 6'8", 252 in my freshman year at ASU. I wasn't strong or coordinated, so I talked to my strength coach. He asked what I was willing to do to be the best and I told him, "Whatever it takes." I trained six days a week. I trained like the off-season during the season. I did that for almost three years. My Bench went from 270 to 380 in one year and my bodyweight rose from 252 to 310 pounds. "
A lot of it was just eating right. I made sure I had a good breakfast and lunch which I never had done before. I would say to anyone, 'Don't be afraid of hard work. It will pay off someway. Nothing comes easy. It's important to earn what you get."
Juan has examplified what strength training and conditioning is all about. He has made steady gains in increasing his lean muscle mass, strength, footspeed, conditioning and agility during his time at ASU. He has remained in Tempe during the summer months for the last three years to lead the team in total number of summer lift and run workouts.
His enthusiasm toward strength and conditioning has helped intensify the team's commitment to a year-round training program."
-ASU Strength and Conditioning Coach Rich Wenner
Most of Coach Snyder's first recruits have stuck with the program. They have worked hard and steadily improved. They always thought that 1996 was going to be the year of the Sun Devil. They started off by beating Washington, and North Texas but the next game was against the number one ranked Cornhuskers from Nebraska. Arizona State was a big underdog. They shocked the nation by soundly trouncing the "Big Red" 19 to zip. "We thought we could beat Nebraska," Juan said. "We believed in ourselves." ... and at this writing, they remain undefeated.
We thank Juan for sharing his life experience and changing into an Upper Limit person. We thank Rich Wenner ASU Strength Coach, for making this article possible.