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Rolle Call
S.L. PRICE
December 10, 2007
Members of the Rolle clan, descended from freed slaves in the Bahamas, have left their mark on football, baseball, basketball, track and other college and pro sports in the U.S.
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December 10, 2007

Rolle Call

Members of the Rolle clan, descended from freed slaves in the Bahamas, have left their mark on football, baseball, basketball, track and other college and pro sports in the U.S.

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It was an ordeal to which he never should have been subjected, he says—just like his benching this fall. Yet all season Antrel has done whatever the Cardinals have asked. Limited mostly to nickel packages, he quietly carried on as the team's utility defender, filling in at five positions, including linebacker, against Tampa Bay on Nov. 4, making 10 tackles and playing on special teams too. Coach Ken Whisenhunt praised him for his attitude and progress. Three days before Arizona's Nov. 18 game at Cincinnati, Green rolled his ankle, and Rolle seemed certain to get his old job back. But by game time Green was in the lineup again.

"For whatever reason I got pulled," Antrel says about losing his starting job in the preseason. "I don't know the reason, but it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is how I handle the adversity. I've never once gotten loud with my coaches. I've never once shown attitude. I've never said, Forget this year. The only thing I've done is work my ass off. I do that to let them know: I'm going to show you you made a mistake."

That Sunday, in a 35--27 Cardinals victory, Antrel showed them all. He came off the bench to intercept two Carson Palmer passes and return them 55 and 54 yards for touchdowns, finishing off the second with a cartwheel and a backflip. Then, on one of the game's last plays, he made his third pick of the day and ran 71 yards into the end zone before a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct against teammate Antonio Smith nullified the touchdown. No matter: This was the kind of day that can recharge a career.

Or two. High in a luxury box at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Samari Rolle watched the Arizona highlights while his own team was losing again on the field below. For two months, the 31-year-old Ravens cornerback had kept secret the headaches, blackouts and epileptic seizures that had terrified him and his family and pushed him to the brink of retirement. This was the sixth game he had missed since receiving a diagnosis of epilepsy in September and beginning the hit-or-miss process of calibrating his treatment. After his third major convulsion, on Nov. 2, Samari had awakened several days in a row feeling his tongue thick and raw and wondering if he was through with football. But then he began feeling better. Then he watched Antrel, who had idolized him as a kid, break out big against the Bengals, and Samari said, "Now I've got to come back."

After the Cincinnati game Antrel spoke of redemption and credited his "character" for keeping him strong. He didn't have to say where that character came from. "What I'm holding right now in my hand is a plaque," he said over the phone. "It's a proclamation from 2006, I believe: CHIEF ALEXANDER ROLLE DAY. They gave him his own day in Homestead. I took this plaque from home without him even knowing because it means so much to me that one man can make such a difference. And it just happens that that man is the man who raised me."

FORTY MILES north of Homestead, Chill Will quietly glides past his screaming and ranting assistants, fields questions from anxious parents and roams the troubled halls of Miami Northwestern High as if he hasn't a care in the world. "How do I look?" coach Billy Rolle asks one of the female office staffers with a flirty chuckle. It's a rhetorical question. Rolle always looks calm and cool, hence the nickname, and nothing in this supercharged universe seems strong enough to shake him. This week's game? The pressure to win Northwestern's first national championship? The tightrope he walks for all the families, players and administrators who almost saw the football program shut down last summer? The new, last-chance academic and behavioral standards he must enforce on 60 testosterone-fueled, pigskin-mad teenagers?

"If you look at me, you can tell I'm carrying that weight," says Northwestern's first-year principal, Charles Hankerson. "You look at him? He just smiles."

A year ago the school and its football program were a shambles. On Dec. 7, 2006, as the Bulls prepared to play for the Florida Class 6A title, star running back Antwain Easterling, then 18, was arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious battery on a minor after he admitted to having had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl in a school bathroom three months earlier. Rather than being expelled, suspended or even benched, Easterling was allowed to suit up two days after his arrest and ran for 157 yards and a touchdown to lead Northwestern to its third 6A championship—and spark outrage throughout the state. (Easterling, now a freshman at Southern Mississippi, entered a pretrial diversion program, and if he fulfills its requirements the charge against him will be dropped.) Allegations that then principal Dwight Bernard hadn't reported Easterling's crime to the police despite having known about it resulted in Bernard's indictment on two counts of official misconduct (he pled not guilty, and the trial is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2008), the reassigning of 21 Northwestern administrators and staffers, including football coach Roland Smith and several of his assistants, and a threat by Miami-Dade County public schools superintendent Rudy Crew to cancel the Bulls' 2007 season. The Northwestern team, says Hankerson, "was totally broken."

The school, in Miami's predominantly black, predominantly poor neighborhood of Liberty City, was little better. Northwestern had been assessed a D or F in state measures of academic progress for six years straight, and Hankerson arrived in April planning a complete overhaul. A few months passed before Crew allowed the football season to go forward, but only after demanding that all players and their parents sign a contract promising to meet standards such as a minimum 2.5 GPA, and a limited number of absences. As for the new coach, Hankerson had one logical choice. Billy Rolle knew Northwestern, having served as an assistant on its first title team in 1995 and then leading the Bulls to their second championship in '98. He was the only coach in Miami-- Dade County to have won state titles at two schools. But most important, the 46-year-old Rolle had the temperament and background necessary to help Hankerson change the school's dangerously skewed culture.

Like many of the more successful Rolles, Billy was raised in a home built upon a strong marriage. His parents, Billy Sr. and Frankie, were so revered as educators in Coconut Grove that one public building is named for him and two for her. The couple, who were together for 47 years until Billy Sr.'s death in 1998, set aside a room in their home for students with nowhere else to go. People tell Billy that he's just like his dad, "but I'm not even close," he says. "He pretty much served as father for a lot of young men."

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