CINCINNATI (AP) Coach Chuck Martin needed only a few minutes of watching basketball practice in December 2013 to realize he had quite an unexpected find on his hands.
Point guard Quinten Rollins had decided to spend his final semester of eligibility trying his hand at football, a sport he hadn’t played since high school. So the RedHawks’ first-year head coach decided to watch a practice and look for hidden potential.
”I made the shortest recruiting trip of my life,” Martin said, in a phone interview. ”I walked 30 yards from my office to the gym. I watched him play basketball. He was crazy gifted – explosive, strong, could change direction. His competitiveness was off the charts. It didn’t take but 5 minutes to know he could do the job of a defensive back physically.”
The 6-foot, 203-pound point guard showed up for spring football aiming to win a starting job at a position he’d never really played much.
He not only won a starting job, but became one of the nation’s top cornerbacks, picking off seven passes and earning the Mid-American Conference’s award as Defensive Player of the Year.
And now, it’s on to the NFL.
Rollins is expected to be drafted in one of the early rounds this week as either a cornerback or a safety. He has worked out for 15 teams, telling his story and showing the athleticism that made him so good despite so little experience at covering receivers.
Although he always thought he had the physical ability to play in the NFL, he never figured on this.
”I didn’t expect it to come this fast,” Rollins said.
Rollins was a multi-sport star at Wilmington High School in Ohio, playing running back most of the time with a little work at cornerback mixed in. Miami – located in nearby Oxford – offered a basketball scholarship that represented his best opportunity to play collegiate sports.
Football became an afterthought. Rollins became a lockdown point guard on defense. He had seven steals in a game twice during his career and finished second in Miami history with 214 steals.
If he didn’t have to be on the basketball court, Rollins would attend RedHawks football games and watch the team struggle through one of its lowest times. Miami went 0-12 in 2013, and Martin – the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame – was hired to rebuild the program.
Watching from the stands, Rollins wished he could be out on the field.
”I would go to the game and watch and be like, `Man, I could be out there doing this, doing that.’ I’d just say it to myself; I didn’t let anybody know,” he said. ”It crossed my mind every now and then.”
He finally told Miami’s athletics department about his desire to play football as a fifth-year senior.
”Our basketball operations guy gave me a call right when I got hired and said, `We’ve got a senior point guard who’s got a fifth year (of eligibility) and is thinking about trying football,”’ Martin said.
Given the state of the RedHawks, Martin was open to the idea. The question was where to play him. Rollins would have preferred running back or receiver, but either position would involve a learning curve. Martin decided that playing cornerback would be the closest thing to playing point guard.
”I said, `I’ve watched you play cornerback all night in basketball,”’ Martin said. ”I said that would be the easiest transition, even though you’ve never played it. As a receiver or running back, there was going to be more stuff on his plate that may slow the process down. He was good with it.”
Once he got on the field, Rollins was better than good.
”You know of some basketball guys who become NFL tight ends, but it’s not very often you hear of a guy playing (cornerback),” Martin said. ”It’s pretty rare that you can run and jump and change direction, and now you put on pads and cover and tackle.
”I’ve never been part of it.”
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