Since then Roque has sent word to opposing pass rushers that Plummer's backside is terra incognita. Although Plummer has gone down often enough on play-action passes, the quarterback has rarely been blindsided, and Roque has allowed zero sacks. His protection has helped Plummer pass for 2,575 yards and 23 touchdowns. "I don't even notice him out there, and that's good," Plummer says of Roque. "If I noticed him, he'd be picking me up and saying, 'Sorry.' "
"All other left tackles stand in Juan's shadow," says Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder. Roque is an almost certain first-round NFL draft pick.
The irony of this rush of accolades is not lost on Roque. In November '94, when Californians passed Proposition 187—a state initiative that denies welfare, health care and educational benefits to undocumented aliens but is now tied up in the federal courts—Juan watched with more than passing interest because he felt his Mexican heritage could have made him a target for nativist resentment. Juan, whose mother,. Mar�a, had legal alien status in the U.S., was born in San Diego in 1974. Then mother and son returned to Mexico to be with Juan's father, Armando, who subsequently found work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. "We lived by the beach, it was very hot, and I had a friend who had a turtle," Juan recalls of his toddlerhood in the coastal town of Coatzacoalcos.
In 1977 the Roques returned to California for the birth of Juan's first sister, Alicia, and this time they all stayed. Although Armando's temporary visa expired after a couple of years, he stayed in the country illegally until he finally secured resident status. Mar�a was granted U.S. citizenship in 1982, two years after the family had purchased a house in Ontario, Calif., less than an hour's drive from the Rose Bowl. Armando, who works in the construction industry, is scheduled to be sworn in as a citizen early next year.
Juan remembers riding in the car with his father one day during the time that Armando was seeking permanent residency but drowning in red tape. As they passed the house of a family that was on welfare and awash in drugs, Armando wondered aloud: "Here I am, a hardworking person with good values—and they're trying to get rid of me?"
"You remember things like that," Juan says.
Perhaps because of his background, Juan arrived at Arizona State with an anger that could be unleashed by a thoughtless remark or a perceived snub. "I think he was looking for approval more than coaching," says junior left guard Kyle Murphy, the other half of Plummer's blindside protection. "If Juan didn't start, he thought it was because Coach didn't like him."
Another teammate, senior center Kirk Robertson, remembers how a single mistake used to rattle Roque. "He'd be so emotional in a game, he'd be crying. We'd say, 'Calm down, Juan,' and he would—but it took him three years to get self-control."
Today when Roque looks at tapes from his freshman and redshirt seasons, he sees himself as others saw him: a kid with slow feet and crude technique weighing a puny 260 pounds. But coach Snyder saw something else in the hot-tempered youngster: desire, pride and a strong work ethic. "Coach was like Freud with me," Roque says. "He said, 'You can't get upset. You've got to let me coach you.' "
And Roque did. By the end of his sophomore season he had put on 60 pounds, developed quicker feet and practiced his blocking assignments until they were automatic. "Now I'm a very coachable player," he says. "If Coach tells me to run into the wall, I run into the wall."