OXFORD, Ohio — First, he was Quinten Rollins, the guard for Miami (Ohio) basketball. Started four seasons, and ended up 12th on the Mid-American Conference career list in steals.
Next, he was Quinten Rollins, the cornerback for Miami football. He used his fifth year to trade sneakers for shoulder pads, walked onto the field after not playing the sport since high school, and intercepted seven passes in a season.
As of Wednesday, that was tied for third in the nation.
Now, he is Quinten Rollins, Senior Bowl invitee, and wonder of wonders to talent evaluators far and wide.
“NFL scouts can’t believe it,” RedHawks football coach Chuck Martin was saying. “I’ve never heard a story like this, and I’ve been coaching all my life.”
How many other athletes can say they scored a basket in Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and intercepted a pass in Michigan’s Big House? But the matter is simple to the guy who wore No. 2 in one sport, and then another. “When I do something,” Rollins said, “I expect to excel at it.”
As a multi-sport athlete in high school in Wilmington, Ohio, he pondered football in college, but instead committed early to Miami for basketball. He spent four productive seasons with the RedHawks, impressing with his lateral quickness, his anticipation on passes, his body control. Know what that sounds like? A cornerback.
John Cooper might coach basketball for Miami, but he could see that. “As weird as this may sound coming from me, I’m not shocked at all,” he said. “Obviously, it’s one in a million . . . but I once told the staff it would not shock me in three or four years that we’ll end practice and we’ll go home and watch him on ‘Monday Night Football.’”
Rollins had watched Miami football games from the stands, “and there were times I’d see something on the field, where I thought I could help.” It was sometime during his senior basketball season that he started seriously considering the idea.
“It was something I had to think about, because I’d be taking my body through another college season. The wear and tear.”
A call from the basketball staff at the arena went down the hill on campus to new coach Martin. Hey, there’s a guy here you might want to see.
“We travel all across the country evaluating kids, I could walk up the hill to eval a kid,” Martin said last week.
“It doesn’t take long no matter what sport you’re watching Quinten Rollins play to know that he’s a crazy great athlete, a fierce competitor, somebody worth taking a shot on.
“He looked like an NFL corner. Ninety percent of the NFL corners don’t look as good as Quinten Rollins. You keep watching him play basketball and his instincts of anticipating where the ball is going to go and being one step ahead of the passer and then being lightning quick to go play the ball. All the skills you’re looking for. It was easy after about three trips down the court to see he was a major, major athletic corner.”
For Martin, one question remained. Could and would Rollins hit? They talked after the basketball season and agreed Rollins would try spring practice. If it didn’t work out, they could end it.
How long did it take Martin to know it would work out? “About half a practice.”
And now Rollins is in the Senior Bowl. Even though he wasn’t even quite sure what it was at first, “because I’m a basketball guy.”
Both Cooper and Martin rave about the young man they call Q. About his unassuming ways – “He talks less than most DBs in the world,” Martin said – and his perfectionist manners and fire to compete. Rollins said he never expected his move to football “would go this well. But I’ve still got a long way go to. I still have a lot of weaknesses I’ve got to turn into strengths.”
The main difference in football from basketball?
— John Cooper, Miami (Ohio)
men’s basketball head coach
“Besides the cold?’’ he asked.
Well, it also hurts a little more in the morning.
“In basketball you might hit the floor every now and then. But it’s not like having to fight off tackles and pulling guards.”
Next spring, about a year after the one and only college football spring of his life, Quinten Rollins will likely hear his named called from a dais. The point guard who ended up in the NFL Draft.
“I’ve had more NFL scouts come sit here and ask, at the end of the day, he can’t be that good of a person, can he? No, he’s that good of a dude,” said Cooper, who guessed that Rollins still remembers all the basketball plays.
Which he does. “When I’m watching a game,” Rollins said, “I know what calls they’re running out of a timeout.”
Martin mentions the time he once told Rollins he had been named MAC defensive player of the week — in his third game as a college player — and all Rollins could do was talk about the one touchdown pass he had given up.
“The scouts are trying to figure out what red flag they’re missing,” Martin said. “They can’t find a red flag in character, can’t find a red flag in competitiveness. They go up the hill and talk to the basketball guys and can’t find a red flag. They go on campus and can’t find a red flag. They’re like, `What are we missing. How could a kid come off the basketball court and be this good?’’’
Maybe it’s a trend. Martin joked he’s thinking of sending out a Twitter recruiting ad to “all point guards that are 6-foot to 6-2 — which isn’t tall enough for the NBA — and all those who can’t shoot 45 percent from 3-point range. Q couldn’t shoot 15 percent from 3-point range.”
Rollins is still a little dazzled that his winding road might lead to the NFL. “Until it is a reality in front of your face,” he said, “it’s a dream.”
One last question. Is he a football player who happens to be good at basketball, or a basketball player who happens to be good at football?
“I’m an athlete.”