Rochell savoring robust times through ND

AP photoNotre Dame defensive end Isaac Rochell (90) celebrates a big stop with then-teammate Jaylon Smith last season.

For about the last five years, Steve Rochell has relied on an interesting mode of transportation to be certain he could attend as many of his two sons' college football games as possible.

As a longtime over-the-road 18-wheel semi driver, Steve has earned the privilege to choose his own routes and destinations when planning out his work week. And for the three months of football every fall, a game schedule serves as his road map, sometimes a navigational nightmare since Rochell lives outside Atlanta.

“It can be stressful trying to make everything on time,” Steve said. “But I live for those 12 weeks of football every year.”

So through creative route scheduling, a little logistical luck and a lot of hot coffee last football season, Steve Rochell was able to take in six of Isaac’s Notre Dame games and seven games for his oldest son, Matt, a three-year starter and now recent graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“And I have every intention of getting to all 13 of Isaac’s games this season,” Steve said, explaining that he changed his cargo hub this year from Atlanta to Gary, Ind., to be closer to his youngest son.

Steve Rochell will be on hand Saturday night when No. 18 Notre Dame hosts No. 12 Michigan State, a rivalry renewal that is one of the more anticipated games on the Irish schedule this season.

The weekend will provide a father and son a chance to spend a little time together to chat and savor the home stretch of Isaac's football career and fascinating time at Notre Dame.

A three-year starter on the defensive line, an all-American candidate, a team captain, a soon-to-be graduate, Rochell has squeezed every possible drop out of campus life during his four years at Notre Dame.

So many memories and too many experiences to recall, but perhaps the most interesting endeavor for Isaac Rochell happened last May when he traveled to Seattle for a two-week internship that strayed far from the usual corporate path these business-training missions typically follow.

Taking a job as the beefiest barista the Emerald City has even seen, this 290-pound Irish lineman believed a little cafe named Street Bean Coffee was the perfect place to learn the ropes on how to operate a not-for-profit operation — a career path Rochell hopes to pursue after what promises to be a successful NFL career.

For every bag of Street Bean Coffee sold at the store, or online at streetbeanespresso.org, the organization uses a portion of the proceeds to fund an hour of job training to help a young person trapped on the dead-end Seattle streets — all aimed at giving the city's homeless youth a chance at a robust future, from the grounds up.

"I learned a lot about homelessness and struggles," Rochell said upon his return from Seattle to South Bend. "I met people that have been homeless since they were 12 years old. And obviously, they didn't make the decision to be homeless at 12 years old."

Rochell's two weeks helping homeless in Seattle is a perfect snapshot into the type of selfless young man he was raised to be.

To illustrate that, Steve Rochell, shared a story from when his son was a senior at Eagles Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Ga.

Growing up as a close high school buddy with the grandson of S. Truett Cathy (the billionaire founder of Chic-fil-A), Isaac was invited to take a "once in a lifetime" senior vacation to the swanky and exclusive Atlantis Resort on Nassau Island in the Bahamas.

What teenager would pass that up? Isaac Rochell did, choosing instead to take a glamour-free church mission trip to Nicaragua.

“That’s how Isaac has always been,” Steve Rochell said. “He always puts the needs of everybody else ahead of his own," which helps to explain Isaac's trip to Seattle.

Rochell's internship — which entailed bookwork, event organization, coffee-making and everything in between — lasted only two weeks. But those involved with the gentle giant's stay say the memories and influence Rochell brought during his time there carry on.

Merri O'Brien, Street Bean Coffee's executive director, said the enthusiasm, involvement and "presence" Rochell brought to the job spilled through the entire business and onto the Seattle streets, giving an immediate boost to a Street Bean Coffee mission that began in 2009.

"Isaac is a Notre Dame football player, and not to mention, we're all like half his size, so obviously that created a lot of curiosity," O'Brien recalled. "But he fit right in. You would've thought he had been there for two years, not two weeks. People were actually really sad to see him go."

In the same way all of Isaac's Irish coaches and teammates will be sad to see him go, too.

Todd Burlage is a freelance columnist covering Notre Dame sports.

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