Big-play Rollinson making differenceOctober 27, 2006
by David Shelton, Special to the Post & Courier
Charleston Southern's defense always seems to make the big stop when the team needs it. Often the guy making the big play is Okeba Rollinson.
Rollinson has become known as CSU's fiercest hitter and one of the top playmakers on the defensive unit that has helped the Bucs build a 7-0 record heading into Saturday's home game against Georgetown.
Rollinson, a 6-0, 185-pound redshirt sophomore who plays the bandit position, began his big-play reputation with an interception return for a touchdown in CSU's first-ever Big South road win over Gardner-Webb last season. In the Big South Conference title-clinching win against Coastal Carolina, Rollinson broke up the final pass of the game in double overtime to preserve the victory.
This season, Rollinson delivered a crushing blow on a receiver just as he made a catch. The ball was knocked out of the receiver's hands and into the arms of teammate Josh Mitchell, who returned the ball 51 yards for the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter of CSU's season-opening win against Presbyterian.
In a win over The Citadel, Rollinson recorded seven tackles, including three sacks. He posted a career-high 10 tackles in CSU's win over VMI last week and has 41 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles in seven games this season.
Not bad for a player who seemed out of sorts for most of the 2005 season. Rollinson himself admits he was lost for most of the year until finally coming into his own late.
"I became a starter almost by default because of some injuries, so I really wasn't confident in what I was doing for a long time," said Rollinson. "By the end of the year I started to understand more and that just carried over into this season. I'm so much more confident in what I am doing and I'm able to play at a higher speed now."
CSU hands out various weekly awards after each game, one being a "Big Hit" award. Rollinson has received eight such honors in seven games this season. Defensive coordinator Steve Barrows says the light has turned on for Rollinson.
"He's certainly one of the most improved players on our defense," said Barrows. "He's a very athletic kid, the prototype player for the bandit position. He can cover downfield, in the flat, play the run and rush the quarterback. And he's much more physical now. He's comfortable with his position and it shows because he really plays pretty well in every game."
Rollinson almost did not play college football. As a high schooler, Rollinson was a very accomplished basketball player, averaging more than 20 points per game as a junior and senior in at North Gaston High School in Dallas, N.C. While he was receiving some interest from colleges for basketball, he chose to pursue football. He still misses the hardwood, but believes he made the right decision.
"I got a little hurt in my senior year during basketball and my coach said I should probably focus more on football," said Rollinson. "I was a pretty good shooter though. I can still light it up but football is definitely better for me in the long run."
CSU head coach Jay Mills is happy Rollinson chose football.
"He was a really talented wide receiver as well as a defensive back so there was a little tug of war within the staff as to where he would end up," said Mills. "In my mind, there was never a doubt that he would play defense. It's just a perfect fit for him."