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"Too small, too small, they always said I was too small to play that position," Marley says of linebacking. "But I showed them." Now he says he is determined to win the Butkus Award and the Heisman Trophy and then play in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Americanization of Marley continues at so dizzying a pace that he calculates his performance in the strange sports math of percentage overflow. He has even refined this American science by using a series of coefficients for height and weight and a separate corollary for speed, which have the effect of turning each tackle into 'Cane geometry. "I always go 120 percent," Marley postulates. "If I only go 100 percent and I hit some guy 6'6", 250 pounds, who's going 90 percent, he's going to hurt me."
So far, Marley has never been stopped for going 100% in a 120% zone. "The thing about Rohan is that for him it's pure want," says senior cornerback Paul White. "He doesn't need to be here the way a lot of the rest of us do. He probably could have had some job in the music world, but he didn't want to be just another face in the background. His only motivation to play football is that he wants something from it. I think he's looking for an identity of his own."
Rohan was born in Kingston in 1972, the year his father recorded the album Catch a Fire, which would begin his transformation into a celebrity, then a legend and finally a myth. Rohan is one of the 11 children Bob Marley acknowledged fathering by eight different women (there are said to be 22 children in all), and he is one of the seven heirs who are 18 years or older and thus legally entitled to share in the millions generated by music royalties since Bob died of cancer in 1981.
Rohan spent time living in his father's sprawling home on Hope Road in Kingston, a place described in Timothy White's 1983 biography of Bob, Catch a Fire, as "a religious hippie commune, with an abundance of food, herb, children, music and casual sex." Later Rohan would be shifted between the homes of his stepmother, Rita Marley, and his biological mother, Janet Hunt, with whom he has maintained a casual relationship. "She's like my sister, or a friend," he says.
"Back in Jamaica I was wild, real wild," Rohan says. "I was on my own a lot, had no one to really supervise me. My mother was always working, my father was usually away." When the boy got too far out of control, his father would whisper to him, "If you don't behave, Rohan, I'm going to send you away."
In the end, of course, this prophecy came true. After Bob's death, Rohan stopped going to school. In 1984, Rita and Janet agreed that the best thing for him would be to live with his paternal grandmother in Miami. There he was awakened at 6 a.m. almost every day by his uncle Richard Booker and made to lift weights and do push-ups. Richard also introduced Rohan to football. "My uncle used to force me to play," Rohan recalls. "He'd throw the ball at me at 50 miles an hour, and if I dropped it, I'd get yelled at."
This June, Marley celebrated turning 21 with a pilgrimage to Africa, the ancestral homeland to which his father had urged a mass exodus by black people. The trip was not a mystical rite of passage, however. The president of Gabon, whose daughter had been a good friend of Bob Marley's, invited Cedella, "and she took me along," Rohan says. "But I don't think I'd go back, because all they spoke was French, so for a week I didn't understand anybody. And the charter flight was too long."
Rohan's wife, Geraldine, is five months pregnant with their first baby, but it is Rohan who often seems the child. "I saw a tiger in Africa," he says, his face brightening. "I was trying to get a chimpanzee to bring back home, like Michael Jackson's. But they told me I couldn't because of the shots." The presence on the flight over of Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, produced a heady frisson of Afrocentrism, but Marley remained spiritually steadfast. "I'm a Rasta from creation," he says. "I will always be a Rasta."
He has, however, given up smoking the scatback-sized spliffs that Rastafarians believe help them along the path to higher knowledge. Would Marley like to toke up on the sacred herb before going out to face Florida State on Oct. 9? "It's not the time and place for that," he says, giggling. "I know it's part of being a Rasta, but I don't want to get in trouble."