Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. Welcome to Season 3! You can find last fall's FAM columns right here. — Chip
. . .
Boomer Roepke's birth name is Peter, but he kicked so much in the womb that his parents figured he needed a nickname. Thus, Boomer.
Any person who goes by Boomer needs a life story befitting the name, and the tale of this Boomer meets that threshold.
The path that led him to his job as offensive coordinator of the University of Northwestern (St. Paul) football team began when he was six weeks old and attended his first University of Southern California football game.
He did not miss a USC home game for the next 25 years.
His mom earned a doctorate in psychology from USC. His dad used to walk him around campus in a stroller. Boomer grew to love Trojans football and dreamed of playing for that storied program one day.
He became an all-state punter in Nevada, but he was more talented at swimming, earning All-America status in high school.
His dad, Carl, played running back at the University of Utah in the early 1950s during the time the Utes were credited with popularizing the shovel pass or "Utah pass" under coach Jack Curtice.
Every day, dad and son worked on punting in a park next to an aquatic center, then Boomer would head inside for swim practice.
His ticket to USC came as a swimmer, not football. He specialized in individual medley events as a recruited walk-on and swam fast enough to qualify for the 2008 Pac-10 Championships as a freshman.
Roepke volunteered in USC's football office as an underclassman, assigned to help evaluate videos of high school recruits. Then he had a crazy idea: After two seasons of swimming at USC, he wanted to try out for the football team as a walk-on punter.
His suitemate was tight end Rhett Ellison, who later became a fourth-round draft pick by the Vikings in 2012. Ellison's response to his friend? Go for it.
"I could tell he loved football," Ellison said Monday from his home in Idaho. "He just needed a little bit of a push."
Roepke sacrificed his spot on the swimming team to train for football with no guarantees. He didn't make the cut after tryouts.
"Broken," he said. "I went outside and started crying."
He returned to the football office and asked then-coach Pete Carroll for an opportunity to do anything that would allow him to be around the program. The Trojans had become a dynasty under Carroll in the 2000s. Carroll offered to let him participate in spring practices in a variety of scout-team roles. No promises beyond that.
"I was out-of-my-mind excited," Roepke said.
Roepke took part in spring ball but did not have a spot when fall camp started in 2009. The coaches allowed him to come to practice as a guest. He showed up every day. Carroll approached him one day early in the season and asked if Roepke would like to serve as a walk-on cornerback because the team had encountered some injuries.
"It was such a special moment," Roepke said. "That was the impact that a coach, especially someone like Pete Carroll, can have on someone that isn't a five-star recruit. What a feeling when you feel noticed and appreciated."
He dressed in uniform for home games only but did not appear in a game that season, which was Carroll's last at USC. He was replaced by Lane Kiffin. Roepke didn't appear in a game or travel with the team again in 2010.
Senior year, 2011, he got a call from Kiffin before the team left for a road game at Cal. Kiffin told him to pack his bags. He was coming on the trip.
Kiffin concluded his pregame speech by shouting to his players, "Get Boomer in the game!"
Sure enough, USC grabbed a large lead, and Boomer got in the game on a kickoff.
"I was flying," he said, laughing. "All I knew was I needed to run as fast as I could down the field."
In the postgame locker room, players chanted "Boomer! Boomer! Boomer!"
Said Ellison this week: "Everyone loved Boomer. You won't find anyone who has anything bad to say about Boomer."
Back in the locker room that day, Kiffin shouted, "We have now figured out the key to winning on the road is Boomer. He will be on every trip from now on."
And he was. USC won their final three road games, including at Notre Dame and No. 4 Oregon.
"It was such an eye-opening experience for me and what it means as a coach to be able to make an impact," he said. "That has been such a driving force for me in coaching."
Roepke felt a calling. He got accepted into the MBA program at USC's Marshall School of Business and served as a graduate assistant on the football team under four different head coaches. He also worked full-time at a campus market and served as house dad at a fraternity.
"Getting into coaching meant that much to me," he said.
In 2015, he asked offensive coordinator Clay Helton if he could signal in plays to the quarterback from the sideline. Helton gave him a week to memorize the call sheet and all the different signals required. That was the same week that his MBA program traveled to Japan on a consulting project. Roepke used the long flight to rehearse his hand signals, which drew puzzled looks from passengers.
"Guys were making fun of me," he said.
Helton quizzed him after he returned, and Roepke aced the test. He started doing hand signals during games.
He earned his master's in 2016 and spent one season as an assistant coach at Pasadena (Calif.) City College. He wanted to immerse himself in coaching by networking and learning from different coaches, so he hatched a plan.
Roepke drives a 1987 Volkswagen camper van that has 430,000 miles on it and has been in the family for 31 years. They took it to swim meets all over the West Coast and on family camping trips. It is outfitted with a bed, stove and fridge.
"This is the third engine," he said over lunch with the van parked nearby. "The sentimental value, I grew up in it. It's been home away from home."
From March to July in 2017, he visited 74 college football programs all over the country, Division I to Division III. He sent letters and emails asking coaches if they would meet with him and allow him to learn from them. He worked summer camps. He studied film with coaches. He observed spring practices.
He parked his van at hotels and filled a journal with notes at night. Without naming names, he said a few coaches turned him down or laughed at him. "There were some very humbling experiences," he said. "Sometimes maybe you get a guy on a bad day."
The tour led him to Iowa State where a former teammate at USC was coaching and introduced him to Cyclones coach Matt Campbell. That turned into a three-year stint as a graduate assistant in different areas. He eventually shifted to helping coach quarterbacks, including Brock Purdy, now the starter for the San Francisco 49ers.
The end of his GA assignment coincided with the pandemic, which made for unfortunate timing, but his connections brought him to Northwestern, a private Division III school.
The ex-swimmer is a full-time football coach who oversees an offense and calls plays.
"Now getting the opportunity to be a play-caller, of course, I put the shovel pass in for my dad," he said.
He's 34 years old with the goal of becoming a head coach. He hopes his story inspires anyone with a dream.
"Just keep going," he said.
. . .
- Darius Taylor: The Gophers true freshman running back made his bid for more playing time by rushing for 193 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries in a 25-6 victory over Eastern Michigan. His rushing yards were second-most in school history for a true freshman, behind only Darrell Thompson's 205 yards against Bowling Green in 1986.
- Michael Nadeau: Macalester quarterback set a school record with eight touchdown passes to go along with 542 passing yards in a 56-27 win over Martin Luther College.
- Josh Diggs: The Park Center junior had 14 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns and also caught two touchdown passes in a 64-6 win over Bloomington Kennedy. He finished with 249 all-purpose yards.
. . .
He said what?!
"Everybody's got to look inward, and we got to persevere together. This is not our first time dealing with adversity, and my hope is we'll circle back on some of that experience and play our best possible game we can play Thursday night."
— Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell after his team laid an egg in Sunday's opener.
. . .
Numbers to know
- 1: Touchdown allowed by the Gophers defense in two games.
- 9: Rushing touchdowns in two games for Hutchinson's Carter Verhasselt.
- 4,291: Days elapsed between the St. Thomas football team being held scoreless by an opponent. The Tommies lost to South Dakota 24-0 on Saturday, making their first time being shutout since December 10, 2011, when they lost to UW-Whitewater in the playoffs 21-0.
- 373: Rushing yards for Minnesota State Mankato's Shen Butler-Lawson, tops in Division II.
. . .
Throwing a flag on:
Vikings' unforced errors. Jumping offsides on third-and-long. Lining up in the neutral zone on a field-goal attempt. Having their own offensive lineman cause a fumble by knocking the ball out of the quarterback's hands. That performance was U-G-L-Y.
. . .
Grab your popcorn
Gophers at North Carolina, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. A previous regime once paid $800,000 to get out of playing North Carolina, a move that still is infuriating more than a decade later. Alas, this will be a great test for Joe Rossi's defense, facing North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, a Heisman Trophy contender who is expected to be drafted in the first few picks next spring.
. . .
An important 48 hours for:
The Vikings. The opener was awful. And now they have to play the Philadelphia Eagles at the road on Thursday with two starting offensive linemen (Garrett Bradbury and Christian Darrisaw) possibly sidelined because of injuries. Players and coaches need to regroup in a hurry.
. . .
Minnesota State Mankato head coach Todd Hoffner (@hoffner_todd on X/Twitter). Hoffner is pretty active on X by head coach standards, and he often posts videos of his players going through workouts and other preparation for the season and games. Hoffner does a great job promoting his players and his program, which moved up to No. 6 nationally in D-II.
. . .
A FAM FINAL WORD
This is FAM's favorite part of the calendar. The start of football season always invigorates those of us who love this sport. High school, college and the NFL are all underway. The thrill and drama and unpredictability of each week create a rhythm to life as summer turns into fall and then fall turns into winter. Thank you for following along on this ride.