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Coaches react to sudden death of Reggie Roby
Back home in Waterloo, Reggie Roby would wow crowds with his long punts during exhibitions such as this one at Byrnes Park in 1986, while he was a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Courier File Photo

WATERLOO - It isn't often that someone who kicks a football earns the notoriety of Reggie Roby.

Perhaps that's because few have ever done it better.

From East Waterloo High to the University of Iowa and around the National Football League, Roby amazed fans and foes as he drove his oak-sized right leg into an overmatched pigskin.

Tuesday morning, the 43-year-old father of six died at his home in Franklin, Tenn., of an apparent heart attack.

"All we know is he was getting ready for work this morning (Tuesday), and his oldest son found him in the bathroom," said Mike Roby, Reggie's older brother.

Those who have been part of Roby's life were devastated to learn of his passing.

"I was shocked, saddened, sick … all of those things when I heard he had passed away," said Iowa State head football coach Dan McCarney, who recruited Roby when he was an assistant coach at Iowa. "We had maintained a relationship … a good friendship. He has been to our camps and come to our games at Iowa State."

Roby, who is survived by his wife, Melissa, and six children, also played basketball and baseball at East. He was an all-conference and all-state baseball player and a bonafide prospect, but it was his ability to kick a football that earned him national attention.

"In my 34 years in Division I football, I've heard a lot of punters and kickers warm up," said McCarney. "There is a 'thud' when they kick it. When Reggie kicked it, there was an explosion.

"He was unbelievable. I think it might have been the opening game of his senior year when I went to Marshalltown to see him kick. Dave Triplett from Earle Bruce's (Iowa State) staff was there, too.

"On the opening kickoff, he kicked it through the uprights. He was a slam dunk (as a recruit)."

Former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry saw that scene repeated many times.

"He might have been the most misused player I ever had who went into the NFL," said Fry. "They just used him as a punter. He had such a strong leg. There were 26 times at Iowa when he kicked off and the ball went through the uprights, but the pros never used him as a kickoff guy."

Roby's legend took root on the field at Sloane Wallace Stadium. Roby had to kick toward the south end of the field because of the school buildings located adjacent to the field at the north end.

"When he kicked at the other end of the field (the north end), the footballs ended up on the roof of the school," noted Roby's high school coach, Roger Kittleson. "By the end of warm-ups, we'd be out of footballs. We lost a lot of balls when he was kicking."

Even Fry has heard those stories.

"I got a note from some people across the street from that football stadium there," he related. "They sent a letter congratulating us for signing Reggie, and thanking us for giving him somewhere else to play where he wouldn't be breaking their windows."

Kittleson said Roby, who also played tight end for the Trojans, was a joy to coach.

"He was a really good athlete and a super kid … very coachable," he noted. "He was very respectful of all his teammates.

"And when he kicked the ball, you could tell there was something a little extra there that you don't normally see in a high school kid punting the football."

McCarney said Roby could have gone to almost any college he wanted, but he eventually narrowed his choices to Iowa and Wisconsin.

One request he made at Iowa was that he be allowed to play baseball as well as football.

"When we recruited Reggie, he talked about playing both," said McCarney. One year, he played on the baseball team at Iowa (and lettered)."

In addition to punting and kicking off, Roby got a few opportunities as a place-kicker with the Hawkeyes, making 28 of 34 PATs and 11 of 27 (mostly long-range) field goals.

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McCarney remembers fans coming to Iowa's games early just to watch Roby warm up.

"Thousands of people would come to the pre-game to watch him," he said.

McCarney said Roby was an important recruit as Fry's staff rebuilt the Hawkeye program into the national power it is today.

"Two of the biggest impact guys were Reggie and John Alt," he explained. "They were national recruits, and those two opened the door for more kids.

"Reggie was a big one … a big one that even gave me confidence as a recruiter. We went against a lot of teams, and he had many, many offers."

Roby was drafted in the sixth round in 1983 by the Miami Dolphins. He knocked around the NFL for 16 years and made his mark at that level, too.

"Often, on walk-throughs in domed stadiums the day before the game, he would always try to hit the top of the dome with a punt," former Dolphins coach Don Shula said in a statement released Tuesday. "He sometimes succeeded, which illustrates just how strong a leg he had.

"Reggie helped define the position, and even after he retired, every time I saw a long, high punt, it always reminded me of one of his kicks."

Roby retired after the 2002 season and became director of marketing and development for Backfield in Motion, an organization that helps inner city youth in athletics and academics.

"He was a lot of fun to be around and to watch, and how could you not respect what he meant to the game?" asked McCarney. "He has a special place in my heart. He was a friend."

Sports Editor Doug Newhoff contributed to this article.

Kevin Evans can be reached at 291-1469 or a kevin.evans@wcfcourier.com

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