The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 9, 2012

Harold Raker's column on high school football: Valley brothers have rooting interest in Titans


Daily Item

---- — Around the time that a lot of children learn about Santa Claus, Missy Rohm unveiled much more positive news to her sons, future Warrior Run High School players Nick and Jake.

The brothers -- Nick is now an 18-year-old and Jake a 15-year-old sophomore, both wide receivers and defensive backs -- had already begun their football careers in the youth program. That made what their mother told them at that age even more meaningful.

They learned that former Penn State University All-America and Houston Oilers Hall of Fame football player Mike Munchak is their uncle -- their mom's brother.

When the brothers received the news, Nick first, then Jake a few years later, Munchak was the offensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans and had played 16 years with the Oilers. He became the Titans head coach last season.

One might think that when the two Defenders get together with their uncle, they would spend a lot of time talking about their favorite sport.

Not the case, according to the Rohms, son of Robert and Missy Rohm.

"We don't," said Nick, whose Defenders completed their season last Friday. "When we see him it is to be with him, be together as a family, and talk about how life is. It is not about the football team.

"It is more of a reunion. We are happy to all be together and it is good to see him. It is really exciting because we don't get to see him too often, like our other uncles," Nick said.

Jake, whose season ended Monday night with a junior varsity contest, said, "It's pretty awesome. My parents don't brag about it, but it's good to have (a famous football uncle). People come up to me and ask me about him and I tell them that I met him a bunch of times."

He added, "Sometimes I ask him about how the season went, but usually we don't really talk about it."

Jake said he sees his uncle during his or the family's vacations, times when he has off from his high-profile job.

Nick recalled seeing some of Munchak's games as a player on video. "I was thinking 'wow that's really cool' and then to see him coach, to know him and to be related to someone like that is pretty awesome, and to get to talk to him. It's really cool that I can have that experience."

Nick recalled watching games when his uncle was the line coach and then hearing his name mentioned as a possible successor to Jeff Fisher.

"When he applied and was one of the candidates, I was really excited to think that this is my uncle and he could become a head coach of a team. That it was his team that he played on, that made it even more special. The family didn't have to switch to liking a different team," Nick said.

Nick said that, while the Titans will not rival teams such as the Eagles, Steelers and Giants in the Valley for fan interest, "I have seen some people with Titan stuff. It was cool to see. A lot of my friends like other teams but they know that my uncle is the head coach of the Titans, so they root for him too.

"Some of my teachers talk about it, saying 'how is your uncle doing with the Titans, how did they do this week.'"

He said older people, including some of his coaches, say they remember him as a player and have told him how great he was. Many have told him that Munchak was a great person even before he became a pro football player.

"It just really makes me happy that people tell me these things of how great of a person he is."

He also said the family tie also comes with some good-natured ribbing. "Sometimes (teammates) make jokes, saying 'you are not a lineman like your uncle' or, if I drop passes, there will be kidding, but not too much," he said.

Nick, who also wrestles for the Defenders, plans to go to school for the next six years and study physical therapy, and doesn't plan to play college football.

Jake, who also competes in track and field, said that when his mother told him about his uncle, "I started asking questions to find out who he was and what he did. She showed me his football card from when he played and then said he coached for them as the offensive line coach — and now he is the head coach."

After the firing and then the death of legendary coach Joe Paterno, Munchak's college coach, officials at his alma mater began to woo him to replace Paterno.

Munchak was often rumored to be close to taking the job but, his nephews said, it was not going to happen.

Said Nick, "I was told that he wasn't going to take the job. He loves the Titans. It's probably one of his favorite teams, it's like his life, and he has always been with them. He wouldn't give that up for the world. I figured he wouldn't take the Penn State job."

Jake said, "I was happy to hear about it. They needed a new coach and when he became the coach, it put a big smile on my face. People started asking 'is that your uncle who is the coach now?"

Although they rarely get to see their uncle's team in person (they saw a game in Pittsburgh last season), Jake said the family watches the games on television via the NFL Ticket.

He said that his uncle may have influenced him a bit to play football when he was younger, but he added, "I really liked it and my family is pretty much a football family."

Jake added, "When I was little, I didn't really have much of a team. I rooted for the team that was doing good. Then I just started rooting for (the Titans) because of my uncle, and my family, and it was my permanent team to root for."

Note: The Rohms are not the only area athletes with close ties to the NFL.

In next week's column, I will feature another area high school player with a famous football uncle. Stay tuned.

n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.