Rob “Quaddy’’ Rolle had such a good junior year at Villanova that he is the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason defensive player of the year, on the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), a projected first-team all-American, and clearly on the NFL’s radar. The senior safety grabbed an FCS-best seven interceptions in 2016, with two 100-yard touchdown returns (one was called back). And he spent part of his summer in prison.
No, he is not a bad person, far from it. He volunteers once a week at a home for priests near campus. He volunteers at Radnor Middle School when needed. In May, the national Pop Warner awards banquet was in Philadelphia. Villanova coach Mark Ferrante met Rolle at the banquet on a Saturday morning when the star defensive back spoke to a group of 500 to 600 people.
A communications major with a sociology minor, Rolle had a summer internship at George W. Hill prison in Glen Mills, where he was a case manager.
“We had our own little office in each unit,’’ Rolle said. “We met with maybe 20 to 25 inmates a day on a one-on-one basis, if they had to call their attorney, be a liaison between them and the court system, make sure they move through the court system properly, getting the proper paperwork done.’’
It was an eye-opening experience.
“That changed my whole perspective on everything,’’ Rolle said. “Everyone faces adversity in any aspect of life. To do it when incarcerated without many resources [or people] to talk to, the mental aspect of that, how tough they have to be, what I’m doing is a breeze. This is nothing.’’
He was there during the week for two months.
“I would come to workouts at 5 in the morning, be done lifting and running by 7:30, and be at work by 8 o’clock and be there until 3 o’clock,’’ Rolle said. “Pack my lunch the night before, get done lifting, get done running, and get right to work. That was really cool. I really enjoyed that this summer.’’
Rolle, from Delsea (N.J.) High, has the ball skills of the wideout he was in high school. It clearly shows in his junior-year highlight tape. He is No. 4.
“I’m just a playmaker,’’ Rolle said. “I’m out there just trying to change the outcome of the game. By my nature and the stature of my body, I’m not coming out there headhunting. I’m always trying to get around the ball and change the outcome of the game.’’
In addition to the interception return, he took a Pittsburgh fumble a few yards for a touchdown. On a very good Villanova defense last year, it was impossible to miss Rolle.
“He probably has the best ball skills of the guys in the backfield,’’ Ferrante said. “He’s a really good natural athlete. … He’s the quarterback of the defensive secondary. He makes all the calls back there, sets the other guys up.’’
Rolle was not heavily recruited out of high school. He had four other offers, including one from Massachusetts. Now, NFL scouts are going to Villanova practices.
“I think we’ve had probably 17 or 18 teams that have been through already, some of them through more than once,’’ Ferrante said. “They like his length. They like his range. They like his athleticism. He can put weight on. He’s probably right around 200 pounds now, and he can get much bigger in time.’’
Rolle, 21, has nearly finished his major requirements. So he will be able to concentrate more than ever on football.
“Hearing from the scouts and hearing how highly they speak of me and my game just makes me want to go harder and makes me realize that I have the opportunity to go out there and do it,’’ Rolle said.
Whenever football ends, Rolle said, he just wants “to be able to affect as many people as possible,’’ either “through the criminal justice route or education route.’’
The prison experience might have given him a different perspective, but he already had the life perspective of a much older person.
“Even if there wasn’t football, just to be a nice person and go out and help the community is a bonus for any individual,’’ Rolle said. “The more you can do, the better.’’
Once a week, he gets a grocery list for the priests and shops for them. He takes their trash out.
And he plays football.
“This is what we love,’’ Rolle said. “This is the easy part.’’
The really good athletes always stand out on the field.
“He was kind of a raw-type athlete when we recruited him,’’ Ferrante said. “His highlight film in high school was as much offensive clips as defensive, maybe more so. … He almost had more of an offensive mind-set when he first got here, but he has much more of a defensive attitude now.’’
And, Ferrante said, “he’s just a good individual.’’
The right attitude is one of life’s critical components. Rob Rolle has it. It has taken him a long way already on a journey with the promise of more football, more caring, and a life well lived.