Michael Roach drew diagram after diagram on the dry-erase board located in his classroom. He asked for responses from a group of about 30 boys seated behind a series of tables. Several times, Roach implored the group to repeat the correct answer.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” Roach told a visitor. “But I’ve still got that coaching bug in me, so this is going to take a few minutes.”
About 10 minutes later, the former Southern Lab football coach turned to his players, smiled and said, “Make no mistake about it guys, I can teach. This is no different than a classroom subject. You need to study in the classroom and when it comes to football.”
After spending the 2012 season out of coaching, Roach is preparing Class 1A Madison Prep Academy, a charter school, for its first varsity football season. And he’s brought along one significant friend, former Grambling and Alcorn State coach Melvin Spears, a Clinton native.
“Ever since we worked together under Doug (Williams) at Grambling, we had a pact,” Roach said. “Melvin said if he got a head job, he’d offer me a job, which he did at Alcorn. I always said I’d offer Melvin a job if I got head coaching job, so here we are.”
The promise initially referred to a head college job. But when Roach asked Spears to become the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, he accepted the nonfaculty role.
“It didn’t take me long to decide because I know Michael Roach and I know what he’s about and that’s kids,” Spears said. “I do a lot of volunteer work through my church. The idea of helping mold a group of young men to play football, to be ready for college and to go out in the world appealed to me.”
Like Roach, Spears also spent the 2012 season out of coaching. He followed East Feliciana, a Clinton/Jackson-based team, that advanced to the Class 3A semifinals. LSU freshman and ex-EFHS star Kendell Beckwith is a cousin.
Spears owns an oil-industry sales company. He could have stayed out of coaching. So could Roach, who was building cabinets in his shop after the duo’s one-year stint at Alcorn ended.
“I was making cabinets and happy doing that,” Roach said. “Then one day the founder of Madison Prep, Mr. (Dajuan) Johnson, paid me a visit. He told me the school needed a football coach. I was a little wary at first. I told him I coached on the college level and at Southern Lab, which is a football school. I wasn’t sure Madison Prep could make a commitment to build a football program.”
Johnson and Madison Prep Athletic Director-boys basketball coach Jeffery Jones won Roach over. The factor that sealed the deal wasn’t football related. It was Madison’s decision to have Roach develop a cabinet-making technology program.
The 51-year-old coach accepted the job and went through spring with about 25 players. Madison was a Class B Louisiana High School Athletic Association school for three seasons and won a boys basketball state title in the spring. Previous Madison Prep football teams played a junior varsity schedule. Last fall, the school declared its intention to play varsity and was placed in Class 1A.
Roach’s son, Malcolm, transferred from Southern Lab. The list of applicants for Madison Prep also grew with the leap to varsity competition and the addition of Roach. A roster of 30 to 35 players is expected to suit up, with another 15 to 20 players sitting out a year based on LHSAA rules because Madison Prep is located outside their home attendance zone.
“I’m just as excited about the cabinet-making technology classes as I am about football,” Roach said. “It (cabinet making) can really blow up into something big. It’s a trade that can be used. I have two college degrees, and I’ve made money coaching. But I’ve also made money making cabinets.
“Some of my former players have come around, which is nice. They’ve got children or relatives who have applied to go to school here. I guess that shows how old I am.”
Roach’s classroom/shop is located behind the main school building and has some building equipment in it. The room doubles as a team meeting room. A weightroom located in the gym has a new rubber floor and some new weights. Uniforms designed like the San Diego Chargers’ uniforms arrived last week.
“It still comes down to hard work,” the 53-year-old Spears added. “That’s what we’re about. The spring and summer were about teaching the kids about hard work and how it pays off. Some of these kids haven’t played much football, so they’re learning. You have to really break it down for them. That’s not something I’m used to doing. But it’s worth it.”
Malcolm Roach, a 6-3, 240-pound sophomore, will play tight end and on the defensive line. Quarterback Justin Russell, two-way lineman Kimini Tate and tight end Reuben Vallien also have emerged as leaders on a team with five seniors.
Much like their days as coordinators at Grambling, Roach drills the Chargers on his 46 defense, and Spears installs a multiple offense. Ex-Southern Lab assistant James Dartez works with Spears.
Neither coach is making any projections. Their focus is day-to-day.
“The main goal is to work hard and just try to get better every day,” Roach said. “When you do that, the rest generally takes care of itself.”