Roaf, Hampton and remembering the linemen

It’s far too easy for those of us who love talking and writing about football to forget the linemen.

As an old offensive lineman — emphasis on “old” — I should know better.

Yet each Monday during the fall when I stand before the members of the Little Rock Touchdown Club and give my weekly college football recap, I talk about those who ran for touchdowns, those who threw the passes, those who caught those passes, those who intercepted the passes and those who kicked the field goals.

That’s the easy thing to do.

The boys who toil in the trenches understand that. They do it not for personal glory but instead because they love the sport and are the ultimate team players.

The guys who play on the line tend to be smart and articulate. If you don’t believe me, come hear Jonathan Luigs when he addresses the Touchdown Club on Monday, Oct. 21.

I like to think they put the smartest player on the team at center.

In January, when the Touchdown Club hosts its annual postseason awards banquet (with Lou Holtz as the keynote speaker), two new awards will be presented.

The Dan Hampton Award will be given to the top Arkansas high school defensive lineman and the top Arkansas collegiate defensive lineman.

The Willie Roaf Award will be given to the top Arkansas high school offensive lineman and the top Arkansas collegiate offensive lineman.

A selection panel of media representatives will join Hampton and Roaf in picking the honorees each year.

Good for the Little Rock Touchdown Club.

Good for recognizing linemen, both those on offense and those on defense.

Good for not just limiting those awards to the collegiate level. You can never have enough high school awards.

And good for naming the awards after Hampton and Roaf, two of the finest linemen ever to come out of this state.

Hampton is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 1992.

“From the beginning to the end, I was blessed with great teammates and terrific coaching,” Hampton says. “But I am proud to say the one true quality that I valued above all others was a relentless will to win. Great talent is a blessing from God, but desire is self-administered.”

An injury caused by an accident kept Hampton out of organized sports in junior high, but he made up for lost time during his junior and senior seasons at Jacksonville High School. Playing for Bill Reed’s Red Devils, Hampton caught the eye of the University of Arkansas coaching staff and went on to star on defense for the Razorbacks at the end of the Frank Broyles era and the start of the Lou Holtz era.

Hampton was a four-year letterman at Arkansas, a three-year starter and a two-time All-Southwest Conference selection. He was named to the Razorback All-Decade team of the 1970s.

Hampton made his mark as a freshman with 21 tackles in 1975. He had 48 tackles and recovered two fumbles as a sophomore. His tackle total rose to 70 as a junior, which was the first year of the Holtz era.

Hampton earned All-America honors his senior season with 98 tackles. He was the Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1978 and was the Chicago Bears’ No. 1 pick (the fourth pick overall) in the 1979 NFL draft.

Hampton made an immediate impact as an NFL rookie when he had 70 tackles, 48 of which were solo efforts, and recovered two fumbles. Hampton was a first- or second-team All-Pro choice six times as either a defensive end or tackle.

Nicknamed “Danimal” for his ferocious style of play, Hampton played 12 seasons for the Bears despite 10 knee surgeries and numerous other injuries.

Hampton retired in 1990, having become just the second Bear to play in three different decades. He was inducted into the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor in 1991 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Roaf is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2007.

“It’s amazing to think a kid like me from Pine Bluff, barely recruited to college and signing with a program just entering NCAA Division I, could end up one of the best to play the game at my position,” he says. “It shows young football players from Arkansas that with a lot of hard work and great character you can achieve anything. I had great coaches and teammates along the way to help guide me. I always competed hard and strived to be the best.”

Roaf, the son of dentist Clifton Roaf and the late Judge Andree Layton Roaf, is quick to note that his mother would have preferred that he become an attorney or doctor. He drew so little interest from college recruiters coming out of Pine Bluff High School that he considered switching from football to basketball. Finally, he decided to play football at Louisiana Tech University at Ruston, where his career took off.

After a stellar professional career, Roaf was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Roaf was 6-4 and weighed 220 pounds when he went to Louisiana Tech, small for a college offensive lineman. By his sophomore season, Roaf was 6-5 and weighed 300 pounds.

Louisiana Tech played Alabama, Baylor, South Carolina, Ole Miss, West Virginia and Southern Mississippi during his senior season, allowing professional scouts plenty of opportunities to watch Roaf play. He was picked in the first round of the 1993 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints. Roaf was the eighth selection overall and the first offensive lineman to be drafted that year.

Roaf spent the first nine years of a 13-year NFL career with the Saints. He started 131 games for New Orleans and helped the franchise to its first playoff win, a 2000 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.

A torn ligament in his right knee forced Roaf to miss the second half of the 2001 season. He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he made the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons.

Roaf was voted to the Pro Bowl 11 times in 13 seasons, tied with Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz for the most Pro Bowl appearances by an offensive tackle. He earned a spot on the NFL All-Decade teams for both the 1990s and the 2000s.

Roaf was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

Memo to offfensive and defensive linemen at high schools and colleges across Arkansas: Smile, in the words of John L. Smith. The folks at the Little Rock Touchdown Club realize you exist.

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