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Rotch still on TRM sidelines – in spirit

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
As members of the T.R. Miller Tigers football team took to the gridiron in sweltering heat for their first day of official practice Monday, principal Donnie Rotch sat behind his desk in an air-conditioned office at the school.
Despite being in a much more environment-friendly location on a hot day, Rotch still has plenty of thoughts and spirit on the gridiron with the Tigers.
"I've probably been away from the game long enough now that I don't need to be out there, but I still like to stop by practice from time to time, watch the kids and check things out," Rotch said.
It is only natural Rotch still has some strong feelings towards the game after 20 years on the sidelines as an offensive line coach. Eighteen of those years were spent with the T.R. Miller coaching staff.
Rotch got his feet wet in the coaching profession at his alma mater, Jackson High School, and spent the 1972 and 1973 seasons with that program.
"I coached under Billy Ricketts my two years at Jackson. He was my high school coach and he arrived at Jackson when I was a freshman so I played all four years under him. After I got out of college, I had a chance to join his staff. I learned a lot under him and he had a big influence on my coaching career," Rotch said.
Rotch arrived at T.R. Miller in 1974. During his 18 years with the Tigers football staff, Rotch worked under head coaches Frank Cotten, Mike Sasser, Joel Williams and current skipper Jamie Riggs.
"All four head coaches were very organized when I worked under them. They all did enough in the summer that by the time the first day of practice came around, the players could go straight to the field and practice. They had all the paper work and equipment issues out of the way," Rotch said.
Rotch indicated while the four coaches he worked under had different styles, they each had several things in common.
"They cared about the kids and tried to make football fun at the same time they tried to win games," Rotch said. "Perhaps the biggest thing they all stressed to the players was the importance and pride they needed to have when they put on a T.R. Miller uniform."
Rotch was a part of two championship teams (1984 and 1991) at T.R. Miller and has seen the program win three more (1994, 2000 and 2002) as an administrator.
"Probably the 1984 championship team stands out the most with me. That team started out 1-3 and didn't look like it was going anywhere. Then all of a sudden they caught fire and won 11 straight games to win the state title," Rotch said. "I've also got a lot of fond memories of the 1991 state championship team. That was my last year as a coach. In 1990, we had gotten to the state championship game and lost to Deshler 28-27. The next year we met Deshler again in the state championship game and this time we won 46-6. That was a great way for me to go out," Rotch said.
As an offensive line coach, Rotch said there were some characteristics he looked for in his players.
"We wanted players who cared about each other. Lineman is a position that is very critical to football, but has very little glory. When they play the school fight song, you don't hear about who made the block that opened up a touchdown run. As a coaching staff, we tried to recognize the efforts and importance of our linemen," Rotch said. "As far as playing the position is concerned, we stressed the importance of proper hand and feet placement as well as stance. If a player couldn't learn and use the right technique, he didn't play."
Rotch, who also coached baseball at T.R. Miller, said fooball offseason training has some similarities yet big differences since he has left the game.
"Back when I started, players came in and lifted during the summer like they do now. These days you have a lot of team and seven-on-seven camps. You really didn't see much of when I coached," Rotch said.
The early days of practice have also changed.
"It used to be a lot of teams would have two-a-days, a few even three-a-days, at the start of practice. You don't see a lot of that anymore. Most programs have one practice a day," Rotch said. "There are probably a couple of factors in that trend. School keeps starting earlier and earlier so coaches would have to work around that. There are also a lot of big school districts in terms of area. Some kids might be as far as 20 to 25 miles from a school. That makes it tough to get to practice more than once a day."
Rotch said the move from coach to administrator was not tough for him.
"I enjoy working with the kids. The difference now is instead of working with 60 kids on the football field, I'm now working with 400 kids in the school," Rotch said.