Rozier balks

Switching from the hill to The Hill must have been a lot tougher than it appeared.

That would explain why Mike Rozier has left the University of Tennessee football program two weeks into preseason drills. UT has issued no official statement on him but the left-handed freshman quarterback missed practice on Thursday and Friday, then missed Saturday's scrimmage.

Released last spring after five years on the hill as a minor league pitcher in the Boston Red Sox organization, Rozier showed up on The Hill last week as a walk-on candidate with the Vols. The layoff from football proved far more problematical than he expected, however.

"It's been five years, and I forgot a lot of stuff," the 6-5, 245-pounder said during an interview conducted earlier this week. "I'm trying to get back into it - getting to read defenses and getting my footwork back. It takes time but I'll get there."

No, he won't. That promise will go unfulfilled. The reason? Several of his comments earlier this week suggested he wasn't progressing as quickly as he'd hoped.

"The footwork is the hardest part," he said. "I've always been able to throw. But, after a five-year span, the footwork is where I have the most rust right now."

A two-sport standout in high school, Rozier signed a football scholarship with the North Carolina Tar Heels in February of 2004. He opted for pro baseball, however, when the Red Sox selected him in Round 12 of the '04 summer draft and offered him one of the fattest signing bonuses in franchise history.

Five minor league seasons later, however, Rozier's 90-miles-per-hour fastball was being clocked in the low 80s, so the Red Sox decided to cut him loose.

Although he said he uncorked some passes "a couple of times in the offseason," Rozier admitted that he rarely touched a football during his five-year pro baseball career. Still, the gridiron seemed an attractive option when he saw his Major League Baseball dream end abruptly.

"After five years away, I didn't how it was going to be," he said. "But my dad talked to some schools, and they were interested, so I started looking at it."

Now 24 years old, Rozier surmised earlier this week that his physical and emotional maturity would help smooth the transition into the big-time world of college football.

"It's a big advantage," he said. "I signed with North Carolina coming out of high school but I can't imagine doing this at age 18. I had a lot of experience in minor league baseball - traveling all over and being away from home - so that should play a big part."

Rozier's attempted transition from minor league baseball to college football was not unprecedented. Chris Weinke spent six years in the Toronto Blue Jays' minor league system before enrolling at Florida State, where he won the Heisman Trophy as a senior quarterback in 2000.

"Weinke was a little older when he came back to college," Rozier said, smiling optimistically. "And I think he'd been away from football even longer than me."

He had hoped to follow a path similar to Weinke's but, obviously, Rozier's path encountered a detour. Conditioning may have played a part of that detour.

"When I first got here my conditioning was ..." he said, laughing and leaving the sentence hanging. "Baseball workouts and football workouts are totally different, so I've had to work a lot on my overall conditioning."

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