Justin Roehl wanted to play football for Arizona State University — and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He made the team, but an injury ultimately sidelined his playing career. Yet he still managed to contribute to the Sun Devils’ success by working with players in the team weight room as part of his academic studies.
In 2021, Roehl transferred to ASU from a California junior college in hopes of walking on to the football team. Coaches, however, were initially unenthusiastic about giving the tight end a look.
Roehl said he mounted a vigorous campaign to persuade them to change their minds.
“They told me no over 20 times. I would show up and meet coaches in the parking lot, asking to meet with them,” Roehl said. Still, the answer was no.
Eventually his perseverance landed him a tryout, and he earned a roster spot for the 2022 season. But an injury and subsequent back surgeries shut down his playing career.
One of his last academic activities before graduating was the internship — helping new players get into condition in the same weight room he trained in, giving him a chance to exercise his football and sports management knowledge to support the team where he once wore No. 87.
His day as an intern started early.
“You get there around 5 a.m. each day to set up for two to three sessions of an hour- and-a-half training session each,” Roehl said.
Roehl’s experience as a player helped him guide team members through their weight training, teaching them about spotting, Olympic style lifting and proper nutrition.
“You’re assisting new athletes with techniques,” he said. “Many of them have never had a weight program before (in high school).”
Sun Devil Assistant Football Coach Clayton Kirven said Roehl’s internship was unique.
“Justin was a former player who went through our off-season training sessions. This internship experience allowed him to see the organization and thought process that goes into running a full eight-week summer training session,” Kirven said. “I believe he saw the importance of communication and coaching that needs to occur when working with student athletes.”
Roehl’s next goal is to become a graduate assistant for the Sun Devil offense. Maybe, he said, he will attend law school on the way to becoming a sports agent.
Read on to learn more about Roehl’s ASU journey:
Note: Answers may have been edited for length or clarity.
Question: Tell us a little about yourself today and your early years.
Answer: Playing and being around the sport of football has always been a big part of my life. It was the first sport I fell in love with as a kid, and now hope to make a career out of it either through being an agent or coaching.
Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
A: It came when I saw the word “sports” in the title of the degree. I knew that after my playing time was over, I would still heavily want to be involved in the sports industry, so it was really a no-brainer to choose this degree.
Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Nicholas Wise was such a great professor and taught the importance of networking. Being able to network and create relationships with new people within the realm of sports has greatly benefited me with new opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those students following behind you?
A: Students have to take big risks to truly achieve their dream. It will be scary, but you have to go the riskiest route possible because if they fail, it’s not that big of a deal. You can always start over. Starting over is better than having regret for never trying.
Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at ASU — about yourself, about what you’re studying, anything — that came to you as a complete surprise?
A: I have learned that if you truly want something in this life, you will find a way to achieve it. No matter what obstacles someone may face, there is always a way out. I also learned to never give up, because nothing that is worth it will ever come easy.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would tackle human trafficking because it is such a huge problem in today’s society. Everyone should go see the movie “Sound of Freedom” to bring awareness to this issue.
Q: What besides the Sun Devils is your favorite sports team?
A: I grew up in San Diego, so I grew up a Chargers fan, and I still support them even though they moved to L.A.
Q: What’s your life motto in one sentence?
A: Have more fear of regret than failure.
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