The rowdy ROC emerges as a game changer in BYU athletics
There are incredible fanbases all over the world of college athletics, but in a little over a decade, the ROC at BYU is quickly becoming one of the most notable and impactful student sections in the country, after garnering national attention from coaches, players and pundits alike.
The BYU football team started its 2021 campaign with five wins in five weeks. Two of the wins were against ranked teams, marking the first time in program history that BYU has beaten AP ranked teams in consecutive weeks. They snapped the nine-game losing streak against Utah and beat Arizona State in the Sun Devils’ first trip to Provo since head coach Kalani Sitake was suiting up as a player.
On a critical drive with 11 minutes left, ASU had the ball with a chance to take the lead. On second-and-6 from their own 24-yard line, the Sun Devils were whistled for a false start penalty. Now facing a second-and-11, the cheering BYU fans got louder, causing ASU to commit a second-straight false start, backing them up to the 14-yard line. Then, facing a second-and-16, ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels was sacked for an eight-yard loss. This sequence was followed by a Sun Devil punt to give BYU the ball with six minutes remaining, nearly securing the win.
“The crowd noise got to us a little bit, (the players) weren’t able to hear Jayden’s clap, so we had to transition into a different form of snapping the football,” ASU offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “They got to us, rattled us a little bit and then it just compounded from there.”
Players, coaches and national pundits alike attributed at least part of BYU’s success to the almost 12,000 students, also known as the Roar of Cougars, or the ROC, who quite literally rock LaVell Edwards Stadium on game day.
How did the ROC rise to be such an impactful student section?
Chad Burton, the first president of what was then an unnamed “student section,” said that when he first had the idea to form what would eventually become the ROC, there wasn’t even a specific place in the stadium designated for students.
“They used to have the student section spread out around the entire stadium trying to get noise, but they only got low levels of it,” Burton said. “That was a bad idea, so they eventually combined it into one section.”
In 2013, athletic managers moved the student section for football into the south end zone and moved the basketball student section from mid-court to behind the basket. These changes were brought about in large part by Brian Fagan, who Burton said was his “tag-team partner.” In connection with Preston Darger and BYU Athletic Marketing, Burton and Fagan created what the next year would formally become known as the ROC or “Roar of Cougars.”
Darger worked for David Almadova on BYU’s athletic marketing team at this time. He drew inspiration for the ROC from Almadova’s experience at Duke University.
“David Almadova was at Duke before coming to BYU,” Burton said. “He was used to the Cameron Crazies, the intensity, camaraderie and overall noise that they brought to the games and he wanted to bring that to Provo.”
According to Burton, partnering with Almadova, Darger and the athletic department was exactly what the ROC needed to get off the ground. He said they worked as equal partners to take the small seed of an idea and turn it into a movement of Cougar fans all across the country.
Over the next two years that Burton, Darger and Fagan were at the head of the ROC, they instituted ROC traditions like serving George Randall’s, a Mountain Dew beverage, to students in line for games. Randall’s became the official specialty drink of the BYU ROC. Darger and Fagan also organized camping for home football and basketball games, including ROC parties the night before the games.
The ROC continued to evolve and grow over the next eight years adding more traditions, including “Power,” where students sway back and forth to Kanye West’s song “Power” before tip or kickoff. They also included the tradition of “Turbulence,” playing it at the under-four timeout for basketball and start of the fourth quarter for football. Most recently, the “Y Clap” has become a tradition. The “Y Clap” includes Cosmo beating a drum at midfield or mid-court each strike of the drum, signaling for the student section to clap their hands over their head in the shape of a Y.
These new traditions, along with the originals, are some of what make the BYU ROC so special. However, coaches, players, pundits, Burton and current ROC president Riley Neuberger all agree what makes the ROC special is the students.
“(The students) unite to bring the energy, the hype and they’re what make the ROC so special,” Neuberger said.
After taking down the No. 2-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in February 2020, BYU men’s basketball head coach Mark Pope expressed his appreciation to the ROC in his post-game press conference.
“The ROC is amazing, I mean come on,” Pope said. “Is there a bigger advantage in the world than that gym tonight? Our student section and this arena fed us energy the whole night and that makes this a hard place to visit and play, especially when it is as rocking as it was tonight.”