Semi-truck drivers know all the best places to stop across the country. If you accept that axiom, Steve Rochell is an authority on a visiting fan attending college football games.
Rochell owns a semi-truck as an independent contractor. Whenever it’s possible, he combines work with football pleasure to see his sons play. This is his fifth year of traveling coast to coast from his home in McDonough, Georgia, near Atlanta.
“I’m ready for another season,” Rochell said.
Matt Rochell finished his Air Force career last fall as a three-year starting offensive tackle. He is now a lieutenant serving his country in space operations at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.
Isaac Rochell is still playing as a Notre Dame senior and a third-year starting defensive lineman this fall. He’s projected to be taken in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Of all the stadiums Steve has visited, he said his best and worst experiences were both last season.
The best was unranked Air Force at No. 4 Michigan State on Sept. 19 with 74,211 fans at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. He drove his truck to the game; Michigan State won, 35-21.
The worst was No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 12 Clemson on Oct. 3 before 82,415 fans at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. Steve explained that since his wife Gina gets too nervous at the stadium, she prefers to watch most games at home on TV, but she joined him for the Clemson game. They drove by car to the neighboring state for the showdown Clemson won, 24-22.
Other games Steve traveled to by truck in 2015 were Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, Notre Dame versus Boston College at Fenway Park in Boston, and Notre Dame at USC.
He also made it to two bowl games by truck in a four-day span: Air Force versus Cal (Armed Forces Bowl) on Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, and Notre Dame versus Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl) on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. Between games, he delivered a load of chicken meal used for dog food to a Nestle Purina plant in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Other games he attended by flying or driving by car were Texas at Notre Dame, Fresno State at Air Force, Utah State at Air Force and Army at Air Force.
What made Michigan State Rochell’s best experience and Clemson his worst?
When Rochell travels by truck, his first concern is a safe place to park his rig. He often has to make a long walk to the stadium, but Michigan State had a large parking lot on the edge of campus with a round-trip shuttle bus service for fans.
“Of all the stadiums of 70,000 or more I’ve been to, Michigan State was by far the most accommodating and friendliest,” he said. “I just pulled into the parking lot, got on the shuttle and I was at the stadium. I wish they were all like that.”
Rochell, who admits to tearing up at every Air Force game when his son and teammates ran onto the field, appreciated the respect paid the Falcons committed to serving their country upon graduation.
“Michigan State took pride in playing Air Force for the first time,” he said. “They let Air Force come out on the field last and the fans gave them a standing ovation. I had on an Air Force jersey with Matt’s number. It was the best Air Force atmosphere I’ve been to on the road.”
Steve and Gina sat through torrential rain fueled by Hurricane Joaquin, but that’s not what upset him about the Clemson experience.
“The worst game was Clemson – it’s not even close,” he said. “The traffic was terrible and we had to walk about a mile and a half to the stadium; there was no shuttle.
“After the game it was still pouring down rain, but we had to stand in the rain to visit with Isaac for a minute or two before he got on the bus. Common sense says they should have provided a place out of the rain. Clemson should be embarrassed the way it treated Notre Dame’s fans.”
With Matt’s graduation, Steve can focus on Notre Dame’s schedule. He had to make choices the past three years with the exception of a 2013 game. That was a two-for-one when both Steve and Gina flew to Colorado watch Notre Dame play the Falcons at Air Force.
So if you’re traveling American highways this fall and see a semi-truck with Georgia plates rumbling along toward one of Notre Dame’s six home games in South Bend, Indiana, it might be Steve Rochell at the wheel.
The Irish face Nevada on Sept. 10; Michigan State on Sept. 17; Duke on Sept. 24; Stanford on Oct. 15; Miami on Oct. 29; and Virginia Tech, Nov. 19.
If you see his truck motoring to Irish road or neutral site destinations:
Sept. 4 at Texas; Oct. 1 versus Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J.; Oct. 8 at N.C. State; Nov. 5 versus Navy in Jacksonville, Florida.; Nov. 12 versus Army in San Antonio; and Nov. 26 at USC.
Give him a honk. You might also want to offer him a tip on the best place to park his rig to get to the stadium.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055