Rolle Ready To Make His Mark

Brian Rolle doesn't like leaving the football field, so one can only imagine how tough it was for him to spend the past two seasons as a backup linebacker at Ohio State. That might not be as much of a problem this year. Now with two years of seasoning, the junior is ready to become a starter and bring some energy to the Buckeye defense.

After nearly three weeks of fall camp and its two-a-days, the last thing most Ohio State football players seem would want is more time on the football field.

Brian Rolle is not most Ohio State football players.

After Wednesday's afternoon practice, the second of a day that reached into the mid-80s in Columbus, Rolle was ready to go for a third session even as teammates dragged their way to ice baths and watermelon slices.

"I can't get tired from football," the energetic Rolle said. "I get tired of not practicing. I get excited and want to come back out here."

Suffice it to say that Bryant Browning, a 312-pound offensive lineman, raised an eyebrow when told of Rolle's quote.

"He's got energy enough for me and the whole team together," Browning said with an incredulous laugh. "I think eventually us linemen wear down. That's why we have guys like him, little sparkplugs like Brian Rolle."

That phrase – "little sparkplug" – sums up Rolle, both good and bad. "Sparkplug" might be selling the 5-11, 221-pound whirling dervish short. He never stops moving at 100 miles per hour. He talks faster than weary reporters can write. On the football field, he's always running or hitting.

"(Linebackers coach Luke Fickell) has to tell me (to slow down) a lot," Rolle said. "Actually in the night practice the other day we were just started up and I was just running fast and ran into Dan Herron and knocked him over. I was like, ‘My bad.' "

But the adjective Browning threw in to describe Rolle – "little" – is the one that follows him up the tunnel, into the locker room, out the door and onto message boards.

Can a player Rolle's size play middle linebacker at a Big Ten school, where a fair share of schools throw 300-pound offensive linemen and 250-pound fullbacks at would-be tacklers? Can his body stand up to 12 straight weeks of pounding, shedding blocks and hitting ball carriers? Is he ready to take over in the middle of the field for a guy like James Laurinaitis, a gentleman who had five inches and 25 pounds on Rolle and patrolled the center of the gridiron for three seasons?

Rolle, simply, thinks the answer to all of those questions is yes.

"I think of myself as a new prototypical linebacker," Rolle said. "I'm a guy that can move. I get guys telling me to slow down a little bit, but there's nothing I'd do differently if I was an outside linebacker or if I was 6-3. I'm ready to do it for 13 games."

Ohio State fans are ready to see him try it. Even though he was stuck behind players like Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, Rolle's been a fan favorite since he stepped onto campus for his obvious enthusiasm on special teams. Playing mostly on coverage units while also getting some reserve time with the No. 1 unit, Rolle made 18 tackles with a sack in 2007 and 21 stops with an interception a year ago.

Many of his stops came at the end of kamikaze runs down the field on special teams that ended with him launching himself at an opposing ball carrier.

"Dorian Bell, he just asks me, ‘How can you run so fast all the time?'" Rolle said. "I said, ‘When you get used to running fast, that's all you can do.' But at the same time, you have to be under control. When I first got here, I was just happy to be here. I was just running around. Now I'm more disciplined, more under control."

He finally made his way onto a starting unit in spring ball, playing as the top weakside linebacker while Ross Homan rehabbed an injury. Rolle appeared to be in the mix for a starting spot as camp neared, and Tyler Moeller's unfortunate off-field injury all but assured Rolle a spot in the middle with senior Austin Spitler moving to the strong side to battle with Etienne Sabino.

"I think I've always been growing as practice has been coming along, but we had guys here that you kind of get overshadowed by," he said. "I don't mind. Those guys are great guys. I loved being behind them just to learn from them. But the special teams thing, most people say that's a bad thing, but I say it was a stepping stone to get my name out there. Everybody knows Brian now.

"But I look forward to playing linebacker now and everybody knowing me as a linebacker instead of special teams."

Confident? In a way. Rolle speaks with 100 percent belief in his abilities on the field. It's a feeling that was born on the fields of southwest Florida, where he was twice named all-state while making a combined 283 tackles during his final two seasons at Immokalee High School.

"I've always had that confidence," he said. "But being here now, it kind of humbles you. You work hard and you're going to get what your works deserve. I'm just feeling comfortable. I feel like I've been the starter since the first day I got here, and I've worked like it. I have the extra work ethic that most people don't have. It's just great to be in the position to start."

At the same time, Rolle tries not to verge into cocky. He spoke Wednesday of a time when Ohio State legend Chris Spielman met the linebackers in their positional meeting room, which made Rolle realize he's the other No. 36 in the equation.

He also continues to strive to cement his role. For all that he's accomplished so far, Rolle has made zero starts, a figure that seems set to change come Sept. 5 against Navy. That would be mission accomplished for a player who didn't come to Columbus to sit.

"Honestly, I haven't actually played my first down as a starting linebacker like I want to, so I can't really say I've established myself," he said. "But I do see myself getting better every day. That's something I strive to do, if it's in the film room, the weight room. I'm asking the coaches, ‘What can I do to better myself?' and they give me great info back and I'm using that."

As he finished talking to the media, he left the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The way Brian Rolle approaches the game, that might have been the worst part of his day.

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