This interview is an introduction to a new series of mine called “the success series”. It shows the struggle, hard work, achievement, and special mentality of an athlete to help inspire and encourage other upcoming or current athletes.
In the first of the series, I introduce to you Villanova football star Safety, Rob Rolle. Rolle is a beast of a player out of Newfield, New Jersey. He went to Delsea High School where he was one of the best in the state. He was First team All-South Jersey as senior and First team All-Conference as a junior and senior. Rolle was also a track star - a two-time All-State champion, the ninth best hurdler in the state, a team captain, and an honor roll student.
Leader Johnson: At Delsea High School, how did you balance track and football?
Rob Rolle: I was very fortunate to have great coaches who strongly encouraged football players to run track after the season to work on speed. And luckily, my coaches were the same for both sports, so it was easy to make that transition in the offseason from the football field to indoor track then to outdoor. I’ve been playing sports year-round since about the 3rd grade or so, so it was something I’d always been doing.
Leader Johnson: What was your best year there?
Rob Rolle: Definitely my senior year, we won our second championship in a row that year, and on the track it was my most successful year as well with my 4x400 team competing in the Championships of America at the Penn Relays, placing top three in the state in the 4x100 and individually placing top 10 in the 400 hurdles … so overall my senior year was my most successful all-round.
Leader Johnson: You never thought about track at Villanova?
Rob Rolle: I did at times before I got here because track has always been something that I enjoyed to do, but after getting here I soon realized that college football takes 100% commitment, and the offseason is just as important as the season. So I was at peace with putting all of my effort into the sport I’m most passionate about.
Leader Johnson: First teamer, plays big when it's time, a winner, schools still fell asleep did that get to you? Did you use that as fire?
Rob Rolle: Yeah, it really did, because that summer going into my senior season of high school, everyone else in south jersey was verbally committing to some big time division one programs, and to that point I still only had UMass as my only 1-A offer. So, rather than waiting it out and playing my senior year undecided, I chose to pick a school that targeted me early, where I could see myself making a difference. Temple passed on me after I attended their camp two or three times, Rutgers passed on me as well and that was my home-state school. So that lit a little fire under me to make every 1A school that passed on me look back and regret it.
Leader Johnson: How long was Villanova recruiting you?
Rob Rolle: They came in during junior recruiting, so that spring (at the end of my junior year). They stopped by the school to see me what seemed like every other day, and offered me the day after I attended their prospect camp that summer.
Leader Johnson: The great Andy Talley what type of coach and person is he?
Rob Rolle: Coach Talley is a big part of why I came to this university. After they offered me that summer, he brought me back for a personal tour a week or so later, just me and my mom, and after talking with him that day I could tell the type of character he had and instantly knew he was a coach I’d love to play for. He’s the type of coach that puts his morals before his pride, meaning that he’s not afraid to go to battle with less talented guys who do the right thing and represent Villanova Football the right way. His quote, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice” aligns perfectly with everything he preaches because to him, it’s bigger than the game of football and it’s more than just winning, which is a great thing to see in your coach.
Rolle was special for Delsea high school playing running back, quarterback, wide receiver as well as cornerback and he produced at all four positions. A Warrior, a leader, a performer … he was tremendous …. as a quarterback in his junior year he threw 3 touchdowns, as a running back in his senior year he rushed for 692 yards and 13 touchdowns on 9.1 yards a carry, as as a junior at receiver he caught only 5 catches but for 230 yards, 3 touchdowns and 46.0 yards per catch on defense in his senior year he had 26 tackles, 4 interceptions and 8 passes defensed. When Rolle's number is called he delivers.
Leader Johnson: You had a bomb youth team including Corey Clement (he is with my Eagles now and the man who will be the breakout star, in my opinion, in college football Penn state WR Juwan Johnson. Do you guys still have a relationship?
Rob Rolle: Very much so. My Glassboro Midget Football Team was stacked!! From playing with Corey and Juwan, and even my cousins Ronnie James (a corner at Rutgers) and Phil Sampson (a LB at Sacred Heart), looking back it’s crazy to see how far we’ve all come. I still talk and hang with all of these boys every chance we get when home from school. We’ve gotten workouts in together, went to parties, concerts, you name it. Every time we link, those 8 and 9 year old kids come back out and we go crazy.
Leader Johnson: What are the struggles of being Rob Rolle? What are some things people don’t know you had to overcome?
Rob Rolle: There’s not much to it honestly, what you see is what you get with me. I can’t complain, honestly I’m blessed. Aside from some confidence issues early in my college career when things weren’t going the way I thought they would, I haven’t had much hardship to fight through. I’ve been extremely blessed with a HUGE family that supports me in everything I do. With having such a large family, death and funerals were something I dealt with way too often, but every time it made me stronger and fueled me to go harder so it’s a blessing and a curse. Growing up things weren’t perfect obviously, they never are... and sure we struggled at times but looking where I am now and not only seeing how far I’ve come but how far I can go, I can’t complain, I’m truly blessed.
Leader Johnson: Newfield, New Jersey - how was it being raised there and when did you know you wanted to play football?
Rob Rolle: Actually I grew up in Clayton, NJ which is just a few towns over. Newfield is just where I lived to attend high school. But regardless, it’s all the same in those towns in South Jersey. Everyone knows everyone, and everybody is somebody’s cousin. Football runs in my family, everyone plays as early as possible, it’s all we know. My uncle Rich, Dad, and Poppy (Grandfather) had me doing tire drills in the yard before I even knew what I was doing them for.
The son of Robert Rolle III and Crystal Perdue, Rob was taught no other way but to compete and succeed. There is no other option. Rolle was once quoted by the daily journal saying "When I play football all the personal goals go out the window, my biggest thing is to help the team get the win and get another championship. It would be selfish of me to focus on personal goals and stats and yards that's not something anyone on our team does”. With those words you can tell Rolle was born to be a Wildcat and he was born to be a leader.
Leader Johnson: Describe your mother and father? How did they have an impact on Rob Rolle?
Rob Rolle: Two of the most selfless people I know. Two people who will bend over backwards to help out as many people as they can even when they really can’t afford to. They were very tough on me growing up when it came to school and football. As long as I handled business in the classroom and worked hard in sports, they spoiled me with everything I asked for. If I brought home C’s on my report cards, I had to stay inside while everyone went outside to play, or my dad would take away my 4 wheeler for a while, things of that nature, and that was as early as 6 years old. So that made me the student-athlete I am today. With the help of my Aunt Sonya, who is like a second mother to me, my grandmother Edie and my Uncle Rich, I got everything I ever asked for and some. Without those five I wouldn’t be half the man I am today.
Leader Johnson: To be a great defensive player what does that take?
Rob Rolle: You have to be a guy who really really loves the game of football, and is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater goal of the team… a guy willing to make the play without making the tackle. It takes someone who is tough physically and mentally, and completely bought into the concept and scheme of the defense. On offense if you have a bad play it’s 2nd &15, no big deal. On defense if you get caught sleeping it’s a touchdown. You just have to be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes, and make the most of every opportunity to make game-changing play. You have to sell out 100% every play.
Leader Johnson: Tyrann Mathieu thats your guy and a great choice because he overcame a lot. What player resembles your game the most in the NFL? Is it Tyrann?
Rob Rolle: Tyrann Mathieu is somebody I look up to and admire because of who he is as a person more so than a football player. His attitude off the field is what makes him the great player he is because he’s not the strongest or the fastest on the field but he’s always around the ball and always making game-changing plays. His instincts are something you can’t coach a guy to have and his “Honey Badger” attitude to play relentless every snap is what I like the most. I don’t try to play like anyone specifically but before every game I watch his highlight tape and try to go make plays just like he does.
Leader Johnson: Why did you pick Villanova and what do you love about this program?
Rob Rolle: Because I knew Villanova was a family and not a team. I knew I would be surrounded with brothers not teammates. I honestly wasn’t even aware of how important and valuable a degree from this school would be at first, I just knew they played good football. But, once I found out academics were such a big part of this institution as well, it was a no-brainer to come here. Feeling a part of something bigger than myself, with brothers who want to succeed just as bad as I do on and off the field is what I love most.
Leader Johnson: Signing day when you officially signed that letter to be a Wildcat how did you feel?
Rob Rolle: I was excited. Seeing my mother and father smile for pictures knowing that they would never have to pay for my education was amazing. I was happy to be done with that chapter of my life, but even more excited to get to school and get to work. Neither of my parents went to college, so actually seeing that become a reality for me was great. I felt like all that hard work and all those times when I got heat for my grades not meeting their expectations finally paid off.
Leader Johnson: Do you remember your first play and how did you feel to get that first taste?
Rob Rolle: My first actual time stepping on a college football field was for “Hands” team to receive an onside kick vs Fordham in the second game of the season my freshman year. We recovered and the play wasn’t a big deal really, but that next possession on defense I went in for the first time at corner, and I just remember wanting to make a big play so bad. I was eager to show everyone I could play.
Leader Johnson: How did those close to you feel when they first saw you on the TV playing at Villanova?
Rob Rolle: Right after that Fordham game, I went to the locker room and checked my phone, and everyone close to me had taken pictures of the TV with me in at corner, and just showing love for getting playing time as a true freshman. Everyone was telling me that they saw me on TV, that was a surreal feeling, I’d never played on TV before.
Leader Johnson: This year Tanoh Kpassagnon was drafted to the NFL he has the chance to be a special player I believe you and Malik Reaves are next. How good will this defense be?
Rob Rolle: This year’s defense is trying to pick up right where we left off last year. We lost some real dogs on the defense, but we have a lot of seniors coming back, and with the exception of the defensive line, everyone has already been battle tested. We know this defense will be as good as the seniors make it and we have the same expectations that we did last year. Everyone is bought in and knows that if everyone does their job we’ll be good. We didn’t have a superman last year and we don’t need one this year. While Tanoh was a big piece of our defense and a big reason why we were successful, we know we can be just as successful if everyone just does their job. All of our starting linebackers finished with the same exact amount of tackles, I had a lot of interceptions but only 3 more than the next most on the team. So, at face value some guys get that recognition but in reality it’s a combination of everyone playing like a savage not just two or three people.
Last season was Rolle's biggest year he had 61 total tackles, 5 passes knocked down and a team high 7 interceptions recently he was named CAA's most disruptive defensive player by Athlon sports. Major D-1 schools slept on him, passed on him, now he is one of college footballs premier defenders. It is safe to say the star we know as Rob Rolle has arrived.
Leader Johnson: What do you think of Coach Ferrante and the new staff?
Rob Rolle: There is really no change. The coaches did a great job in making that transition for us as smooth as possible this offseason. The new guys know what they’re doing and they’re bought into what we’ve already done … and the players are bought into what each new coach brings and everyone wants to get better, so really there’s not much change.
Leader Johnson: Out of the new recruiting class which of those guys impresses you the most and do you think will have a very successful Villanova career?
Rob Rolle: I’ve watched all of their tapes, and talked with many of them on their recruiting visits, but you never really know. I hope they all come in and have amazing careers, and help us continue to get better. We’ll have a better idea when they all report in the summer but until then I don’t know much honestly.
Leader Johnson: Describe Rob Rolle the player and describe Rob Rolle the man. What do you get with the two?
Rob Rolle: There’s no difference really, I’m the same humble down to earth guy on the field that I am off the field. I have a really strong faith in God, and give him credit for all of my success, and really my relationship with Him has shaped much of my career on the field and my character off the field. I’m aware that I’m not super aggressive on the field or off it. But in any situation, I don’t hesitate to fight for what I care about. If you watch my film, you’re not going to see big hit after big hit, you’re going to see someone who runs around and tries to change the game. I’m someone who’s going to work as hard as I possibly can in everything I do while building the best relationships with those around me who want to succeed as well. The same way I enjoy having a great time listening to music and chilling with my boys off the field, is the same way you’ll catch me dancing and acting a fool on the field.
Leader Johnson: Been great talking to you and once again congratulations on the Athlon recognition?
Rob Rolle: Thanks again, I really appreciate it.
Follow Rob Rolle on twitter: @quaddyrolle4
Follow the leader on twitter and instagram: @leaderscoutvu and facebook