In his first season as a starting middle linebacker last year, Steinert’s Xavier Roman led the Spartans with 112 tackles. (Photo by John Blaine.)

When it comes to his future, Xavier Roman hopes to pattern himself after a comic book hero or a television character. But when it comes to playing football, the Steinert High senior is happy being himself.

In his first season as starting middle linebacker last year, Roman led the Spartans in tackles with 112 and earned praise throughout Mercer County. He credited his defensive lineman for occupying linemen, saying, “I get the stats but they get the high fives.”

Asked to assess his own effort prior to the start of the 2018 season, Roman said, “I just kept doing me. I didn’t get too big of a head about it. I was still a junior, I wasn’t that big senior on campus yet, I was still sort of the middle guy on the totem pole. So I kept doing what I do. They always preach ‘Do your job,’ and I feel I really embodied that last season. It all worked, I made the plays, I feel like I did good and I’m hoping to come out better this season. “

Roman has been a key defensive presence for Steinert since returning to the field in late September. Steinert only allowed 10 points in its first two games this October.

From there he hopes to play in college and has his choices narrowed to two. With a 3.6 grade point average, the plan is to major in pre-med, go to medical school and become a cardiovascular surgeon. Part of his interest came from his health classes. The other part came from fiction.

“Watching Grey’s Anatomy, even though it’s fake, it really made me like it,” Roman said. “And the comic book character, Dr. Strange, before he was hero he was a surgeon until his hands got messed up in a car crash. Those two really inspired me. I like helping people. If I can save a life…”

‘He’s a difference maker… He can change a game from the linebacker position, that’s rare.’

Unfortunately for opposing ball carriers, Roman had different aspirations this fall. They are still noble, but only when it comes to his teammates. Rather than save a life, he snuffs out an offense. And coach Dan Caruso feels he is one of the best in county at doing that.

In fact, so does another township coach.

“He’s a difference maker,” Caruso said. “Last year against Nottingham I thought he had an outstanding game. He was all over the field. It might have been the best compliment the kid could ever receive – I nominated him for 12th Man, (TD Club award), and (Stars coach) Jon Adams nominated him for 12th Man as well because he was so impressed with him. He can change a game from the linebacker position, that’s rare.”

Roman combines everything needed for his spot—strength, athleticism, desire and intelligence. He makes the defensive calls and is reliable when a ball carrier is in his grasp.

“He brings it,” Caruso said. “He’s not a devastating hitter, but he’s an effective tackler. You know you’ve been hit by Roman, he’s gonna get you to the ground. It’s not Dick Butkus hitting you. His game is more based on speed, and he’s a sound tackler. With the way he plays the game, he forces a lot of things to be bounced outside because he fills (holes) so hard. And when people are running laterally they’re not picking up yardage.”

Conversely, Roman’s career has been straight forward since starting with the Pop Warner Revolution at age 8 as a defensive tackle and offensive lineman. Back then, he was the team’s biggest player, noting that “I was always chunkier when I was little.”

By fifth grade, he transitioned to linebacker as the coaches saw his potential when he began to grow into his weight. When he arrived at Steinert, Roman played linebacker and running back on the freshman team and scored a whopping 22 touchdowns.

“You won’t see me back there anymore, they want me on defense,” Roman said. “But in my heyday I was a good running back. We just have had really good running backs with Xavier Thompson for two years, and now we have Will Laster.”

As a sophomore, Roman played for the JV team and also saw time on varsity.

“We saw he was a special kind of kid that year,” Caruso said. “But we had some guys in front of him who could really play.

Roman misses those days of “getting to play a game on Saturday and another one on Monday.”

He made the most out of his one day a week last year, and will be a force again this year despite a delayed start. Roman missed the Spartans first two games with a concussion.

“As soon as he was hit in the scrimmage he knew it,” Caruso said. “At first he was a little dazed, then he said, ‘Aw coach, I’m gonna miss next week.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about that now.’”

Roman has filled out to a sleek 5-11, 190 pounds but adds with pride, “I’m about six feet with cleats on.” He has worked tirelessly with linebackers coach Kyle Flanagan and his athleticism allows defensive coordinator Bill James to move him all over the field and force opponents to game plan for him.

“That really does enhance the whole defense and gives teams a lot to prepare for,” Caruso said. “They see a lot of different looks out of him and they have to practice it more during the week.”

Caruso said they planned blitz Roman on occasion but it may appear to look more frequent.

“A lot of times his reads are so quick, it’s the illusion of a blitz,” the coach said. “He flies around and really knows how to backdoor stuff. He’s a special kid. He has all the physical attributes and the mind to do it. It’s hard to pick a weakness in the kid’s game.”

It doesn’t hurt that Roman absolutely loves to play linebacker as opposed to being on the line. It didn’t take him long to embrace the position.

“I still remember the first day they brought me over to linebacker practice, I was just so happy,” he said. “It’s completely different from the trenches. I have the utmost respect for linemen, it’s not really a glory position but you do the most. It’s the most athletic position, in my opinion. But at linebacker, I always love just standing up, commanding the defense, having a voice to say some stuff instead of being down on the ground with a guy just three inches from me.”

Taking it a step further, Roman is even happier that he was moved from outside to the middle last year.

“There’s a huge difference,” he said. “Outside, I would have to cover these quick receivers and I guess I wasn’t fast enough so they moved me. I feel it’s a lot easier at middle, but maybe that’s just me. You stay between the guards and get physical and get downfield quicker.”

About the only thing that went wrong for Roman last year were his hands.

“I dropped three interceptions in the Northern Burlington game,” he said. “They were to me, and I just panicked. Nothing we can do about it now, right?”

Nope. But the good news for Roman and the Spartans defense is he still had one more year to make up for it.