MOBILE, ALA. — Quinten Rollins spent four years starting on the basketball court for Miami University, dishing out assists and grabbing more steals than anyone in school history except former Chicago Bulls standout Ron Harper.
Now, the converted point guard has emerged as a legitimate NFL draft prospect at cornerback after intercepting seven passes while shadowing wide receivers in his first year of football since high school. Rollins was named the RedHawks' Most Valuable Player and the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
This unlikely draft story probably doesn't happen if not for the Ravens, who are coached by former Miami University defensive back John Harbaugh. Rollins acted on the suggestion a Ravens scout made last year to the Miami director of basketball operations, and joined the football team prior to his fifth year of sports eligibility.
"When the scout got in touch about me playing football, I said right away, 'I'll take a chance at it,'" Rollins said. "I just tried to make the most of it."
With his natural athleticism, size and knack for intercepting passes, Rollins has made himself a major topic of conversation in NFL scouting circles at the Senior Bowl all-star game this week. And he's trying to answer any questions about whether he's tough enough to play football, throwing his body around in run support and passing drills.
"I've dealt with it," Rollins said. "If you go back and watch how I was as a basketball player, I was a hard worker trying to compete. Playing football has its differences, but I try to go in there and be scrappy. With my basketball background, people think I'm soft.
"But I feel like I've answered those questions. In basketball, you can't have slow instincts. As a point guard, you have to be thinking a play ahead. I try to take that out on the football field."
Growing up in Wilmington, Ohio, Rollins was recruited as a running back and wide receiver before eventually accepting a basketball scholarship.
While holding dreams of playing in the NBA, Rollins said he eventually realized he would likely wind up playing basketball in Europe, and that prompted him to pursue football.
It's proved to be a good decision so far, as the 5-foot-11, 193-pound cornerback has been one of the most impressive players this week through two days of practice. He's also occasionally displayed some raw technique when he's not in press coverage, which is what he's accustomed to playing.
When Rollins initially started playing football again during the spring last year, he said his experience was rough, as he was regularly tested by his new teammates.
"It was frustrating, honestly, because I'm a competitor," Rollins said. "When I went out there and I wasn't excelling, I expected to excel like I did in high school on the football field. I went out there that first practice, coming from basketball, you can't really get physical with guys, and the receivers were just bullying me.
"I was like, 'What's going on? That's not pass interference?' It was just a different game. I had to adjust to it. Once I got my feet wet at the end of spring ball, I was ready to go."
Despite the rust he needed to shed, Rollins accomplished a lot during his lone season of college football. He finished last season with 72 tackles, four for losses, a forced fumble and nine pass deflections. And Rollins led his conference in interceptions and finished third nationally. That included intercepting one pass against Michigan and two against Cincinnati.
Could the Ravens scout pushing Rollins to play football lead to him joining a secondary that had problems at cornerback last season, when top cornerback Jimmy Smith and several other players were placed on injured reserve?
NFL draft analyst Russ Lande opined that Rollins is a player who would fit in well with the Ravens, provided the team doesn't expect to plug him in immediately.
"He's an interesting kid," said Lande, the Montreal Alouettes' director of college scouting and a former scout for the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns. "We're talking about a four-year starting point guard who won the starting job having not played football since high school. He's a long, linear kid who's athletic. He can run. I could see the Ravens being very interested.
"He's got all the tools of an NFL starter. I think if he had played football for four years he might challenge to be picked in the top half of the first round. He has ball skills, which is rare for a kid with so little experience. He's a kid who I could see vaulting potentially into being the top corner in the whole draft. He could move up fast."
Rollins is a tough self critic, though. He was far from satisfied with how he performed last year while playing for RedHawks coach Chuck Martin, who coached Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr at Grand Valley State.
"I feel I did better than expected, I did all right," Rollins said. "I'm not one that's really big on myself. I have a lot of weaknesses I have to sharpen up. The strengths speak for themselves. At the same time, I'm going to make the plays when the opportunity presents itself. I have to get better at the weaknesses.
"Playing in space, I get impatient at times at the line, and I open up my hips too soon, and inexperience. I only played 12 games. A lot of these guys have been playing in the same system from high school into college. I only had one year. The more looks I get, the better I'll get at it."
Rollins finished his basketball career with 214 steals and 391 assists — fourth in school history — and was ninth in minutes played. Twice, Rollins hada single-game record seven steals.
That kind of background and anticipation skills could serve Rollins well in the NFL. The league has had more converted basketball players on the offensive side of the football, such as San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who excelled as a power forward in the MAC at Kent State, and Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas.
"As a little kid, I thought about playing in the NFL or NBA," Rollins said. "Getting there is the hard part and staying there once you get there. I've got a lot to learn. Once I learn, the sky's the limit. I really want to pattern my game after Charles Woodson. He's a versatile player with good ball skills.
"I feel like I'm capable of playing anywhere. Put me on the outside to cover guys and run with them, put me on the inside and get physical with guys. It's a matter of whatever the team needs."
Rollins was asked if he thought he could become the best two-sport NFL player.
"I'm not one to put myself out there like that, I'm a humble guy," he said. "At the same time, I'm going to be the best two-sport point guard out there."
One question Rollins frequently faces is whether he still dabbles in basketball, which can cause concern for NFL teams due to potential injuries on the hardwood.
"I haven't picked up a ball since spring break," Rollins said. "Miss it? No, this is my lifestyle now."
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