Family is everything to Roman Hemby.
This isn’t something he shies away from, either. If you picked up a game program from Maryland’s week one game against Buffalo, you’d see on page three that family is the last thing he thinks of before running to take the field.
What exactly is he thinking about?
“Just making them proud. They’re already proud of me, they say it all the time,” the redshirt freshman running back said. “But every time I get a chance to go out there on Saturdays and wear that name across my back, it’s like I’m carrying a legacy, that’s kind of how I take it.”
That legacy is one the budding star is seemingly adding to with each performance. Hemby has become the breakout offensive player for the Terps, but there’s a lot more to know about where he started.
Hemby started playing football just before he turned five years old.
Seeing his brothers play sports at a young age, Hemby had the drive to follow them and start early. And so he did, as he began playing for coach Larry Jaski and the Middle River Renegades.
“His smile is what I remembered, probably the most,” Jaski said.
Jaski started coaching Hemby when he was a little kid and continued to do so until Hemby got to the high school level for John Carroll in Bel Air, Maryland. Hemby credits all of his coaches, but without “coach Larry,” who knows where he would be?
“I kind of got to attribute to what I do to him because I feel like without him, I might not be in this position,” Hemby said. “Being a running back, he was the first coach to kind of give me the ability to run the ball. So I think he definitely played a huge part in where I am today.”
On the field, Hemby quickly developed. At running back and linebacker, he was “by far” one of Jaski’s quickest players and had the vision to break through the secondary. But, his football IQ stood out above all.
Hemby would study film at just 5 years old — in a playful way, Jaski admitted — but it helped lay the foundation for his knowledge as he got older. Hemby was teammates and friends with Jaski’s son Brandon, and he would often stay over at the Jaski household growing up.
“As a kid when he came over [to] my house and spent the night, I mean that was a blast,” Jaski said. “It was all about ‘Let’s either play some PlayStation or Xbox,’ or ‘Hey Coach Larry, can we watch football?’ I’m like, ‘Nope, we’re done with football.’ There’s more to life than just football.”
Of course, Hemby realized that as well. Football is his platform, but family is his main pillar.
Living in Aberdeen, Maryland, at the time, the Middle River field wasn’t exactly close — about a 45-minute trip, his brother Ky’el estimated. But his parents Elwood and Charleena were dedicated; they wanted to make sure Roman was with a quality program despite the distance.
“My father, he dedicated a lot to getting me to practice and things like that,” Hemby said. “My mother, she was the watergirl for my team growing up, so she would always keep me on track.”
An equally important part of his inner circle, Roman’s older brother Ky’el played a huge part in his journey. The former Southern Mississippi defensive back can relate to playing at a high level, and Roman says Ky’el’s journey helped fuel his.
The Hembys have six children, and four years separate Roman — the youngest — from Ky’el. Despite the age difference, Ky’el says he and Roman have the closest relationship of any of the six siblings. Roman had to grow up fast, and it was apparent he was mature at just a young age.
“Basically it kind of motivated me and pushed me because I know, I mean obviously as him being a younger brother, we got the same dreams and aspirations,” Ky’el said. “Every move I made was sort of just kind of making sure I make it at the best ability to kind of give him just a good role model and just to make the right decisions and things like that.”
With both boys being athletes, Ky’el says he needed to do everything at his best ability so Roman could see too.
Ky’el also played for the Renegades and John Carroll. Though he eventually shined as a safety, he once played both sides of the ball just as Roman did. Ky’el played a lot of running back growing up, and Roman was able to model a lot of his game off what he did.
“Honestly, I just feel like he picked up a dog mentality,” Ky’el said. “Because he’s an offensive guy and I’m a defensive guy. But growing up, I did both, and he did both as well. And in high school, I feel like he flashed on both sides of the ball. His whole life, he’s flashed with the ball in his hand and even tackling… I think the main thing he kind of developed from me and molded his game was just being a ballplayer, having a nose for the football.”
Ky’el knew Roman would be special from the get-go. He recalls his younger brother coming to his games as a toddler, showing up with a massive T-shirt down to his feet and chasing him down the sideline with his own football.
By the time Roman was 12 or 13 years old, he was the one scoring five or six touchdowns per game. It wasn’t just the statistical output, but the way he did things that stood out to Ky’el. Roman was doing things at age 13 that players Ky’el’s age were doing at 17 years old. By Roman’s sophomore year, Ky’el knew he was going places.
It all goes back to their parents; none of it would be possible without them.
“It has been his North Star, his guiding star. Everything that he chooses to do, [family] is in the forefront of his mind,” Jaski says. “...Without his parents, Hemby could not do it by himself.”
Parental love is nearly impossible to fully comprehend or appreciate at such a young age.
On an average football weekend, the Hembys went to the field from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — from Roman’s game to Ky’el’s game to their oldest brother’s game. It’s time, travel, money and — in a nutshell — sacrifice to make your children’s dreams come true.
“You don’t understand things when you’re younger, you appreciate them more when you grow older,” Ky’el said. “It’s like, man, they devoted a lot of time and money into us… It’s paying off, and they deserve all the praise as well as God and the glory. So without them, I feel like this journey wouldn’t be anything for neither of us.”
Elwood would work 13- or 14-hour shifts and then drive straight to the football field to support his kids. He instilled so many values, but preparation was overwhelmingly important.
“He preached to us always, you don’t miss practice,” Ky’el said. “If you miss anything, don’t miss practice because that’s your preparation. Everything you do in practice is displayed in the game. So he made it imperative that — I mean, if maybe at times there was traffic, we may be 15 to 20 minutes late, but we were always there.”
Roman knows this as well. There’s a reason why family is his last thought as he runs out of the tunnel.
“They’re always there to see me play,” Roman said. “So it’s kind of like sharing a part of myself with them, and them inviting me in. Just loving me unconditionally.”
Only about 60 miles separate The John Carroll School and SECU Stadium. Staying home was a convenient choice for Roman Hemby, but not an uncomplicated one.
“It actually wasn’t an easy choice for me,” the youngest Hemby said. “Being a young kid, a lot was going on in my mind, and a lot of things were going on. So I didn’t really know what I wanted at the time.”
Hemby grew up a Maryland fan, though, and ultimately did “the right thing to do” by committing to head coach Mike Locksley and running backs coach and “father figure” Elijah Brooks on Aug. 16, 2020.
“I just felt, why go somewhere else and try to make somewhere else better when you can make somewhere that you’ve spent your whole life better?” Hemby added.
However, it was a bit of a transition. Hemby went from the guy at a small John Carroll School that has fewer than 1,000 students to a redshirt scout team player for the Terps.
“I wouldn’t say it was frustrating,” Hemby said of the redshirt year. “I would say it was a little different. Growing up my whole life, I was either a starter or main guy on the team or things like that. So I would say it was a little humbling coming in.”
Humbling, yes, but not something that was totally unexpected.
Ky’el redshirted at Iowa Western — a junior college program — before he even got to Southern Miss. He notes it was not the easiest experience for him, but it helped him at the end of the day. He told Roman that if you’re redshirting, the coaching staff is thinking in the long run. Maryland had plenty of other talented backs and it wasn’t about Roman at the moment, but Ky’el knew his little brother’s time would come.
“You take this year to get ahead on school, learn the playbook to the point where you know it like the back of your hand, get stronger, get faster and just get better,” Ky’el said. “That’s all it is.”
Roman drew upon his brother’s experience. He learned the Maryland playbook, one that was much bigger than John Carroll’s. He worked on his pass protection. But most importantly, he slowed the game down and his self-confidence improved.
“Now that I’m on the platform to be able to display it, it’s kind of like, just icing on the cake for me and I’m just gonna stay down and keep getting better,” Roman said.
He kept his word, and the tangible results have already shown this fall.
Through three games, Roman already has two 100-yard rushing games and three touchdowns. He has a chance to build off that Saturday with what his brother calls “the biggest week of his life” against No. 4 Michigan.
Roman’s football success is extraordinary, but it is on par with the other values in his life. Hemby’s short-term goals include having the top rushing attack in the Big Ten and the team having a 1,000-yard rusher, but there’s more to it.
“Keeping up with my relationship with God and being the family person that I am,” Hemby said. “Staying on top of schoolwork, things like that… the things that can easily slip away when you’re focused on football. I want to make sure that I’m not just a football player, I’m a human being as well and I take care of everything that needs to be taken care of.”
Faith has always been important to the Hembys, and Ky’el mentions they are big on praying through the good times and bad. Schoolwork has also been a priority for Roman; his brother claims he has never gotten a C in a class.
His priorities are straight and his values are entrenched, and the result is about as well-rounded of a student-athlete and person as there is.
“He is a story that I think the entire community really can grab hold of, should they choose, and really reflect on how being so selfless and humble can get you in the world of sports and collegiate athletes for the better good,” Jaski said. “...You’re not going to deter him, and he’s going to bring his compadres with him, period.”
A limit cannot be put on Hemby’s success, and he does not need anyone in his circle to tell him that. He has already picked up a Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor to validate his performance. But the on-field theatrics are minimal in the big picture.
Hemby has NFL dreams, but they can wait. He plans to walk away with a degree and focus on the school part first.
But what is one thing that people should know about Roman Hemby that they didn’t know before?
“Tying that back into family, I’m the youngest of six,” he said. “So I’ve had a funny life experience up until this point. I wasn’t really a kid my whole life, and it’s kind of funny to hear that because I’m only 20 years old.”
Only 20 years old, yet demeanor, maturity, selflessness and plenty of other glowing words pop up to describe who Hemby is. The story of Ky’el’s “goofy” brother and the “introvert” that Jaski knows will continue to grow, and the qualities that are building the Hemby legacy will grow with it.