It all came down to how he was raised, in the little house on Monterey Street, in Ontario, he explained.
Many thought Juan Roque was going to leave Arizona State last year and make himself available
for the NFL draft. And why not? He was 6-feet-8, 320 pounds and was going to earn his degree last May.
Why use his remaining year of football eligibility? If everyone agreed he was a big-time NFL prospect, then why not pursue that big-time money?
“It would have been an act of disloyalty to leave early,” said Roque, in announcing his decision last winter. “I signed an agreement when I came here that I would play football for four years. Besides, I would have betrayed all my teammates and coaches.
“I thought it over for maybe one minute. My Mom told me she’d prefer me with a college degree over a million dollars in the bank.
“When you tell someone you’re going to do something, you do it. That’s how I was raised. A lot of Hispanic people are poor, but the one asset they have is their word, their honor, their loyalty. It’s what [bonds] a lot of Hispanic people together.”
Roque, who will line up against Ohio State’s Mike Vrabel--the Big Ten Conference defensive lineman of the year--in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday, says his attitudes and work ethic were formed by his father, Armando, whom he outweighs by nearly 150 pounds.
“My Dad is a construction worker in Ontario and a really tough guy, but a very quiet guy too,” he said. “One time I sassed my mother when I was 13 and he heard it. He motioned for me to step outside, into the back yard. He got in my face and very quietly said: ‘Don’t ever talk to your mother in that tone of voice again.’
“That’s all he said, and I never did it again.
“My Dad rarely loses his temper, but one time when I was a high school sophomore, a teacher sent home a note that said I’d misbehaved in class, and he went ape.
“At the time, he was upset anyway [because] I didn’t know how to do any work, couldn’t use tools or anything. My hands were always clean. I just liked sitting around the house, listening to music or watching TV.
“So he took me out in the yard and said: ‘Listen, my friend--school is all you got. You’re no good for real work. You want to quit school and go to work for me? We don’t ask you to do any work around here. All we ask is that you go to school and do well.’
“That was kind of a turnaround day for me. My first two years at Ontario High, I was a poor student. But after that conversation, I finished high school with a 3.4 GPA.”
Every day, Roque said, he lives with the perception that what he does, play football, doesn’t compare to what his father does.
“It’s really my Dad that drives me to work as hard as I can in football, to be the best that I can be. Because what I’m doing is easy. What he does--get up a 4 a.m., drive 40 miles to a construction site, then drive 40 miles back home--is hard.”
Roque earned his degree in Latin American history last May, one of five Sun Devils who’ll play in the Rose Bowl game as graduates. Now, he looks beyond an NFL career, when he can guide Hispanic high school kids through the history of their culture, or run for political office.
He’s projected as a first-round NFL draft choice. Said one NFL scout: “There are guys in the draft with better technique, but Roque’s got a great NFL body . . . a massive upper body on top of relatively lean legs.”
Roque bench-presses 445 pounds and can do five repetitions with 335 pounds.
As the Sun Devils’ offensive left tackle, he’s the blind-side protector of quarterback Jake Plummer and he’s got a perfect record. Not once this year has Roque’s man sacked Plummer, an athlete Roque enjoys calling “a pencil-necked geek.”
For this, he gets a hug after every game from Plummer’s mother, Marilyn.
Roque sees Plummer as his team’s meal ticket.
“One mistake on my part and I could end Jake’s career,” he said. “I’ll protect him by any means necessary. Would I hold? If Jake was exposed and it was the only way, you bet I would.”
Roque, who was born in San Diego, is of French-Mexican descent. When home, he speaks both English and Spanish.
“My Dad was a merchant in Hermosillo, but they knew I was going to be a big baby [10 pounds, 11 ounces], and my Mom wanted me to be born in a San Diego hospital,” he said.
Wry, soft-spoken but intense Armando Roque, taught his son the value of hard work.
“My Dad’s done everything in construction work, he even worked on the oil rigs at Vera Cruz,” Juan said. “He passed his U.S. citizenship test recently and he’ll be sworn in as a citizen in February.
“My Mom is a citizen, she went to Garfield High then went to Mexico to marry my Dad when she was 18.”
Roque’s mother, Maria Elena, manages a middle school cafeteria in Montclair.
Roque is an oddity on the team that won the Pacific 10 championship. Unlike many of his teammates, such as Plummer, who weren’t viewed as can’t-miss high school prospects, Roque was widely recruited out of high school.
He narrowed his choices to USC and Washington State. He gave USC a verbal commitment, but when USC line coach John Matsko left in 1991 for the NFL, Roque then bonded with Sun Devil assistant Rod Marinelli and signed with Arizona State.
And shortly after that, Marinelli joined the USC staff.
Roque’s first exposure to the NFL process hasn’t been a happy one, he says.
“I’ve had a problem with sleazy agents,” he said. “Last season, several of them called my parents at home and I was very upset about it. All I have is my reputation, and I’m clean. My phone at school isn’t even listed under my real name, and they even get that number. They call my fiancee too.
“Some of them masquerade as long-lost relatives of mine and call my coaches, asking for my number.”
Roque, who turns 23 on Jan. 6, said he was first conscious of his father’s strength of character when he was 6.
“I remember he was trying to jump-start his truck but he’d forgotten he’d left it in gear,” he said.
“The truck lurched forward, knocked him down and trapped him. He hurt his back. He missed a day of work that day and the doctor told him to stay home for several weeks.
“He was back at work the next day. I think of that every time I get hurt playing football. I mean, considering what he did that time, I have no excuses.”