HAMILTON — A year ago the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unleashed a halfback on the league in Richard Leonard, who spent much of the year as the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honours.
Eventually the award wound up going to Argos running back James Wilder Jr., who had a stellar first year in his own right, but there are those in the Hammer who will tell you Leonard was more deserving based on his excellence over a full season. Wilder Jr. didn’t really get going until the midway point in the year.
Cornerback Jumal Rolle is in his first year in the CFL this season and like Leonard is enjoying a strong campaign. Through nine games Rolle leads the Ticats in picks with two and has 21 tackles, more than anyone else in the Ticats secondary other than safety Mike Daly.
Those numbers are good but he won’t be vying for rookie honours because of his 18 career games played in the NFL on his resume.
That doesn’t negate the fact that for the second year in a row, the Ticats appear to have found a diamond to add to an ever improving secondary that was only bolstered by the return of shut down corner Delvin Breaux Sr. following a stint with the New Orleans Saints.
Rolle arrived already matured with five seasons in the NFL, most of it on practice rosters, but among the 18 games he did play were a shining six-game period in Houston when he picked up three interceptions and appeared to have finally locked down some security in a league where security is fleeting.
Undrafted out of Catawba, a small private coeducational college in Salisbury, N.C., Rolle knew exactly what lay ahead of him if he hoped to make a career in the NFL. From 2013 through 2017 he was with five different teams including the Buffalo Bills twice, most of it on one practice roster or another with the exception of short, active stints with Houston, Green Bay and Baltimore among which his 18 games were played.
Over those five years he was cut five times.
Never once did he become frustrated with the process. Rolle just knew he loved football and was willing to endure whatever it took to keep playing.
But eventually the opportunity to play at that level became less and less and that was when Rolle started to seriously consider the CFL.
“The game is still fun to me and I knew I was going to have an opportunity to play here,” he said of making the decision to change course. “So I wanted to continue my career. I had a chance to go to Canada to continue to play football and that’s not a bad deal. I’m doing what I want to do.”
As for the multiple times he was told to move on and pursue his dream elsewhere, Rolle said that just comes with the profession he chose.
“Being an undrafted guy you have to have that perseverance and just continue to be ready for the journey,” he said. “You know every opportunity you get you’re going to have to work for it so I knew going in it was possible I would be bouncing around. But I enjoyed the journey. I enjoyed going to all those teams and learning from all those coaches and being in the locker room with future Hall of Famers. I knew that was part of the journey so there was no frustration. I did want to play but all I could do was control what I could. Now I am getting a chance to play and just having a blast at it.”
When Rolle made the decision to take his talents north, it was far from the first time he had considered the CFL.
In college at Catawba, his defensive backs coach was Bob Lancaster, son of the CFL legend Ron Lancaster and he made sure Rolle was well aware of that other opportunity up north should the NFL dream not pan out.
“I was always aware of the CFL,” Rolle said. “I was familiar with guys who were playing here. I kept up with it but I never thought I would play it. As time moved forward I knew it would be a chance to play football again so that was always there.”
When the time came to make the move Rolle did some more research and found some more players whose game he was familiar.
“I remember Masoli,” Rolle said motioning towards quarterback Jeremiah Masoli’s locker, “when he came out and I thought he was a legit NFL career and I see him having a great career up in the CFL. So I was thinking ‘maybe it will work for me too.’ That was kind of the turning point for me.”
Rolle said the key for him making a successful transition from four-down football to three was just putting in time and then once he got to Hamilton lots of reps.
“I just studied the game a lot,” he said. “When I found out I was signing here I immediately reached out to the video guys and told them to send me film so I could get a look at it. I wanted to see how the game was played.”
Based on his early success up here that path was the right one for him.
A GAME LIKE NO OTHER
Hamilton/Toronto on Labour Day is always bigger than just any other regular season game.
There’s a history and a rivalry that make it stand out on the schedule that much more than the 17 other games.
But now there’s another level to the drama with June Jones and Marc Trestman, two respected offensive innovators matching wits in the annual match.
“We came into the National Football League at the same time and we were in the same division it seemed for the first 15 years so were always going against him,” Jones said of Trestman. “I have known about him for a long, long time. My first year in the NFL (playing) one of my coaches knew him very well and said some things about him that made me follow him.”
Jones said the two have texted back and forth over the past 10 years or so and he can see why the CFL drew both of them north.
“I feel like if you are offensive guy this is really fun to come up here,” he said. “Offensively Mark and I have been dreaming up ways to throw the football for 45 years so it kind of allows you to do that once you do come up here.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies