Photo: Courtesy of Concordia-St. Paul
Photo: Courtesy of Concordia-St. Paul
September 06, 2017 10:10 PM
Darnell Rolle will be in Bemidji this Saturday when the Concordia-St. Paul running back and his teammates take on Bemidji State in the second game of their season.
But the Miami native will be keeping his hometown in his thoughts. The region could be in the direct path of Hurricane Irma, which is expected to make landfall in the U.S. this weekend.
"I called my Mom last night and asked her if she was leaving the house," said Rolle, a 2016 graduate of Carol City High School.
"She said 'Where would I go?' She'd just end up going to a hotel. She's boarding the windows and sandbagging the doors. She feels like she has the situation handled."
All of Rolle's brothers either played or are playing football as well. That includes his youngest brother who is still in high school and back at home in Miami with his mother.
Rolle, meanwhile, is playing the big brother role at Concordia-St. Paul too. Though only a sophomore, he is already a voice of experience in the Golden Bears' locker room.
Especially when it comes to what could accurately be termed his team's Sunshine State offensive backfield.
Concordia-St. Paul's top three running backs this season all come to the Twin Cities from Florida - led by the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Rolle, who carried the ball 17 times for 107 yards and a touchdown in the Golden Bears' 24-0 season-opening win over Minot State last week.
But he is backed up by a pair of talented true freshmen in Lajuan Preston, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder out of Fort Myers' Dunbar High School, and Shaq Johnson, a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder out of Northeast High School in St. Petersburg.
"They're always coming up to me or calling my phone asking questions," Rolle said with a laugh.
"They want to know how things work in our offense, or just on campus. In a way, I guess I am kind of like a big brother to them. I was in their position last year."
Games to watch: Week 2
Wisconsin-Whitewater (0-1) at Concordia-Moorhead (1-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
The Warhawks, a perennial Division III power, began the year ranked No. 3 in the D3football.com Division III preseason Top 25. But they tumbled all the way to No. 15 in the most recent poll after they were upset 17-10 at Illinois Wesleyan last week.
The Cobbers, meanwhile, began their 100th season with a 34-14 road win at Nebraska Wesleyan last Saturday. Senior Chad Johnson carried the ball 14 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Winona State (1-0) at St. Cloud State (1-0), 6 p.m. Saturday
The Huskies return home after beating Southwest State 41-26 in Marshall in their season opener last week. Sophomore Joe Blando carried the ball 38 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns. The 38 carries were one off a school record.
The Warriors beat Bemidji State 30-20 in their season opener. Senior quarterback Darren Beenken, a Farmington graduate, threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns
Hamline (1-0) at Macalester (1-0), 7 p.m. Saturday
It's the battle for the Paint Bucket between the two former MIAC foes. Hamline rolled past Crown 51-0 last week led by junior quarterback Justice Spriggs, who threw for 22 yards and four touchdowns. One of those touchdown passes was caught by fellow St. Anthony Village graduate Nick Kampa, a senior. It was the biggest margin of victory for the Pipers since a 75-20 win over Macalester in 2004.
Macalester beat Carleton 31-20, marking the first time the Scots have beat the Knights in successive seasons since 2001-02.
The trio are part of a fairly sizeable Florida contingent on Concordia-St. Paul's 107-man roster. In all, 13 Florida natives are listed as part of this year's team, and head coach Shannon Currier said around six of them currently play prominent roles on the team's depth chart.
Minnesota's Division II and III schools have increasingly drawn more and more players from outside the Upper Midwest in recent years. For Currier and his staff, that's meant establishing a Florida pipeline.
"We were already dabbling in it during my first time here," said Currier, who served as head coach at the school from 2000 to 2003, then returned to the job again prior to last season.
"But it's picked up. Part of it is just that there's not as many opportunities for guys down there when it comes to the Division II and III levels. So a lot of talented players can slip through the cracks."
That promise of opportunity - on and off the football field - is what convinced Rolle to take a chance on coming to Minnesota.
"Life down where I'm from can be pretty rough," he said. "It definitely has its ups and downs. And I really wanted to get away from that."
Concordia-St. Paul proved that getaway and the Golden Bears are glad to have him.
He already turned heads on the coaching staff as a freshman, appearing in nine games and twice earning special team scout player of the week honors. But he bulked up while spending the summer in Minnesota in an effort to make himself the kind of running back better equipped to compete in the physical Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
"I told those other guys, when you first get hit (at this level), it feels different," said Rolle, who had an uncle who played quarterback at Eastern Kentucky, and who has been told he is related to former NFL safety Antrel Rolle, though the two have never met.
"I gained 20 pounds over the offseason and it's different now. I could tell that right away (against Minot). I'm the one laying the hits now instead of being the one taking them."
But Preston and Johnson are already talented backs in their own right. Preston rushed for 1,458 yards and 18 touchdowns as a high school senior and was named team MVP.
"I came up here because I loved the city when I visited," Preston said. "Everything they showed me on my visit put me in the right frame of mind. It's a small campus. I'll be able to get to know my professors and they'll be able to get to know me.
"It just felt like this would be a better learning experience."
Johnson was a three-sport standout in football, wrestling and track and field in high school. He was an All-State football player, who also qualified for the state tournament in wrestling despite only taking up that sport as a junior.
He had a successful debut last week, rushing for a touchdown in his first college game. And having lived in Chicago before moving to Florida during his high school years, he already has a good idea of what's ahead of him when September gives way to October and November.
"I'm used to all kinds of weather," Johnson said. "They told me it can get cold here for Florida kids. But I already know what winters up here are like."
All three players say it helps having fellow Floridians on hand to discuss things back home.
But they are branching out as well.
"It helps having guys you can talk to about where you come from," Rolle said. "But then again, I've never been a person who wanted to be around a clique either. My roommates now - one comes from Arizona, one is from Chicago, one is from Wisconsin and one is from Minnesota.
"That's part of what was so great about coming up here - getting to know people from all over."
Updated: September 06, 2017 10:10 PM
Created: September 06, 2017 06:09 PM
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