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Flames Feature -- Family Fuels Rojas' Fire to Succeed
Family is a very important word to redshirt senior inside linebacker Manny Rojas. It is a word that led the young man from Oakdale, Pa. to Liberty Mountain four years ago.
When Lillian Rojas passed away a week after her grandson Manny helped West Allegheny to the Pennsylvania AAA state title, the young man saw that he had to make some changes in his life. Rojas chose the Flames football program over a variety of different alternatives and is happy he did. "I am glad I came to Liberty," said Rojas. "If I didn't, I would be in a lot of trouble."
The Flames faithful are very happy about that decision as well. Coming into his final year, Rojas brings 272 career tackles, needing just 37 more to become the Big South's all-time leader in that category. Humility runs deep in Rojas who looks at the feat as "No big deal … I am more concerned with the team winning than me getting my tackles." It is words spoken like this that reflects why Rojas was chosen as a team captain by head coach Danny Rocco.
Rojas had a dynamite year for the Flames a year ago with a career-high 102 tackles including 12.0 tackles for a loss which ranked 53rd nationally in the statistical category. Rojas finished the season with four-straight games of at least 10 tackles, including 10 against 14th-ranked Coastal Carolina, a game which the Flames dropped in triple overtime, 27-21, at Williams Stadium.
Despite being on the verge of the Big South career tackle record and finishing in the upper echelon in the nation in tackles per game, Rojas earned only second-team all-conference honors last season. Rojas has been honored on some preseason lists, including a Big South preseason all-conference distinction this year. He was also named to the I-AA.org Big South preseason first-team all-conference squad.
Accolades and accomplishments aside, it all comes back to the core of Rojas and that is family. Liberty University and the Flames Football program have become an extended family to Rojas in which he has found camaraderie within a group of guys who are a part of something bigger then themselves.
Rojas looks back on his four years at Liberty with appreciation. One on-the-field memory that Rojas remembers with fondness came during his redshirt freshman year just after he helped the defense get the ball back for the offense. As Rojas was running off the field with then teammate Seth Reichart, the two joked that the next time they were out there, Rojas would strip the ball and Reichart would pick it up and run it back for a touchdown.
The next play on defense the ball hit the ground and "Seth picked it up and started going, but got tripped up…We got real excited because we actually thought he was going to do it," Rojas said with a smile. "Just playing with all the guys from the past was great … I still keep in touch with many of them," added Rojas.
Part of being a "man" is when others look to you for leadership regardless of whether you want to lead or not. There is a responsibility to take up that task. Coach Rocco has looked to Rojas to do exactly that by naming him one of the team's captains. Rojas has taken that responsibility and flown with it. "I go out there and take it up to another level even if I am sore or hurting so that my teammates can see that and do the same," stated Rojas. "That's the way we are going to be a more successful team."
This December, Rojas will earn his bachelor's degree in advertising. His one wish is to work with the Secret Service in Washington D.C., where he already has submitted an application. If that avenue does not work out, he already has an internship set up at Clear Channel Radio next spring and the opportunity has the potential to become a full time position at the conclusion of the spring.
In the meantime there is one objective that Rojas states about the upcoming 2006 Liberty Flames football season and that is to "win the Big South." This year's defensive scheme will benefit Rojas as Rocco has changed from a 4-3 defensive set to a 3-4, creating better opportunities for the linebacker core.
"The offense is going to put some points on the board," said Rojas. "Everyone has done a phenomenal job in camp. The O-line is coming off the ball hard this year, Rashad Jennings is running hard … Our wide receivers are catching almost everything that is being thrown to them," added Rojas. With that in mind it looks to be an exciting year all around on the Mountain.
However, the circle in Manny Rojas' life always returns to family. Just weeks ago his father, Manny, Sr., suffered a massive heart attack and looks like he will have to miss his son's first game of the 2006 season against St. Paul's. "He is doing well, but they put one stint in and have to put another one in the artery on August 24 so he most likely not make it to the game," said Rojas. "He is madder than a pit bull that he won't be there." Rojas added that "seeing him go through that and not knowing if he is going to be around makes me work that much harder for him."
Despite coming off a 1-10 season there is a new coach and a new attitude that has a fire lit under the Flames football program. Rojas will be at the forefront of that blaze as he looks to help raise the program from the ashes like the mythical bird the Phoenix and place it at the top of not only the Big South Conference but also the country's elite.
By Vincent Briedis
Liberty University Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director