Former Miami basketball coach Charlie Coles only got a brief look at Quinten Rollins on the football field. He saw enough, however, to once remark that Rollins might be an even better football player than a basketball player.
Rollins, Miami and MAC fans are now getting a chance to compare the two roles following Rollins’ decision earlier this year to pursue football with a final eligibility opportunity.
With just one season at his disposal, some might have viewed Rollins’ move as merely an attempt to spend a little time on the football side. He, of course, had no crystal ball to show what might transpire. What he did have was a highly competitive nature and interest in football – even after four years of basketball.
Coles managed to land Rollins, who earned prep state honors in basketball after a standout career at Wilmington (Ohio) High School. Once at Miami, he quickly made his mark on the hoops scene. Rollins was the first freshman to start in a Miami season opener since 2003-2004. At season’s end, he was tabbed with Miami Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Although the 6-0 point guard made numerous contributions over his four years on the hardwood, Rollins earned particular praise for his work as a defender. During his senior season, he ranked 14th nationally and led the MAC in steals (2.4 spg).
Just a few months later, Rollins is again among MAC leaders in steals – of a different type. Through four games, he has four interceptions. The first came in Game Two against Eastern Kentucky. He grabbed another and earned MAC East Player of the Week honors following his work against Michigan – not bad for somebody in his first year of collegiate football.
The win once again eluded Miami at Cincinnati Saturday, but Rollins continued to demonstrate improvement. He registered two interceptions against the rival Bearcats and almost pulled off a third pick.
Although Rollins earned prep football all-conference honors three times and was 2009 FAVC Co-Athlete of the Year in football, nearly all of his grid experience came on the offensive side of the ball.
“I was mainly a running back and receiver and then (I) played a little robber on defense on third downs – run around and read the quarterback and make plays,” Rollins said.
After finishing his Miami basketball career, Rollins decided to check out what options he might have on the gridiron – albeit for just one season. “There wasn’t much depth at the DB position, and I (was) willing to play where ever,” he said. It was “filling a void that needed to be filled and going from there.”
One of the first things Rollins had to do was the same thing other football players were doing – get bigger, stronger, faster – a high priority with new head coach Chuck Martin and his staff.
“It was definitely one of the hardest strengthening and conditioning programs (that) I have been a part of since I’ve been here, but it definitely was for the better,” said Rollins, who added about 20 pounds and now lines up at about 203 pounds.
Spring ball gave Rollins a chance to get out on the field and to practice his new craft. Asked what has been the hardest adjustment, he identified learning technique – especially given his basketball background.
“A lot of times, being in basketball and playing it for so long, you want to open up and see the floor. In football, you don’t really want to open up and scan the field, especially off man coverage,” he said. “My technique is getting better. … (It’s) just the little things technique-wise -- getting out of my breaks better, staying in my stance- my peddle.”
With just a few months to reinvent his game and one season to use, Rollins had to condense his progress. He continued to work and continued improve. By fall camp, he was in the mix. By the Week One two-deep, he was listed as a starter.
Rollins’ competitive nature has served him well. To some degree, so has his time in college basketball. As with any defensive back – especially a first-year DB – mistakes are sometimes made or the offensive player wins on a particular play.
“Being a point guard definitely helps (with) that. Being a point guard, you’ve got the ball in your hands a lot – making a lot of decisions and controlling the offense. You’ve got to have a ‘next play’ mentality. That’s the same thing out here. … You’re not going to stop everything. There’s going to be times you get beat. You just got to have a ‘next play’ mentality.”
His hoops experience has also served him in another way. Playing in front of over 100,000 cheering fans at Michigan Stadium might be intimidating to some, but Rollins’ own experience kept him focused.
The noise “is definitely more noticeable in a basketball gym, because the crowd is more or top of you and it’s more compact,” he said.
“You definitely could tell there was 102,000 there, but at the same time, once you are in the moment of the game, you really don’t pay attention to the crowd as much as you think you would. You’re in the middle of competing, and it was 17-10 going into almost the fourth quarter. You’re just locked in at that point. You’re really not focused on anything except what is in between the lines.”
Keeping his focus – along with accompanying hard work -- has served Rollins well. He’s hoping those same elements can soon pay off at the team level.
“We need a win,” he said. “I feel like we beat ourselves each and every week, (thus far). This week is another opportunity. I want to move forward and (correct) all the mistakes that we made … (so we can) get the win on Saturday.”
The RedHawks, attempting to break an FBS-high 20-game win streak, travel to Buffalo (2-2) this week. That means getting tested by UB junior quarterback Joe Licata. He leads the MAC in passing yards (290.0 per game) and completion percentage (66.7%).
If you’re a Miami defensive back, you can expect to be challenged Saturday. That should be okay with Rollins. If he didn’t like challenges, he wouldn’t be wearing a helmet this fall.