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He was a freshman, which was reason enough for Rohan Marley to keep his mouth shut. That he was a bench jockey and, at 5'8", demonstrably too small to play linebacker were two more good reasons for him to remain respectfully silent. Yet there he was: a Jamaican-born, green-card-carrying Rastafarian linebacker for Miami who had never heard of Bear Bryant—or Anita Bryant, for that matter—but was about to play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last Jan. 1 for the national championship and his American right to say, "Me nomba one, mon!"
Because of football, he had no dreadlocks on his head (his helmet wouldn't fit over them) and no dread of anything in his heart. Days before the game against Alabama, Marley faced a group of reporters, called the Crimson Tide's running game "one-dimensional" and all but promised that the Hurricane defense would shut it down.
"Naughty boy," said Crimson Tide running back Derrick Lassie. "I love Bob Marley's music, but too bad I don't love his son." Lassie wasn't the only one.
"They say I was talking trash, but the reporters asked me what we came to do, and I said, 'We came to kick ass,' " says Rohan, who is indeed a son of the late reggae star Bob Marley. "It wasn't really a prediction. It was something that was supposed to happen." But didn't happen. The 'Canes were crushed 34-13 by the Tide, an outcome that might have been expected to make Marley more circumspect. "Look out this year," he says evenly. "I'm going to decapitate some people."
He is the Rasta of Disasta, meting out punishment to a world that has twice taken away what was most important in his life and left him with only football. Nine years removed from Jamaica, where he was as likely to see a bobsled run as an American football game, and 68 inches removed from the ground, Marley recorded 59 tackles last season while backing up senior Jessie Armstead at outside linebacker. He had seven tackles and caused a fumble in Miami's 17-14 victory at Penn State. Though he weighed only 200 pounds, Marley was the Hurricanes' most ferocious tackier, a swirling low-pressure area flying up from the Caribbean. This season he is one of three Miami linebackers who are starting for the first time as the Hurricanes rebuild the heart of their defense.
If that heart speeds up a beat, it will be Marley's doing. "You don't stand around the pile when Rohan is in the game," says Miami linebacker coach Tommy Tuberville, "because he'll come flying over the top. He likes to hit." After the opening play of Miami's game with West Virginia last season, Marley strode up to the Mountaineers' 6'1", 270-pound center, Dan Harless, and punched him in the face mask. Harless turned and walked away. Marley had a game-high 15 tackles and was named Miami's most-valuable defensive player.
But then the mango never falls far from the tree. Before he became an international music icon and a blissed-out Rastafarian prophet, Bob Marley was a street fighter so feared in the Trench Town slum of Kingston, Jamaica, that he was known as Tuff Gong. Like his father before him, Rohan learned to take care of himself at the knee of Cedella Marley Booker. "If they hit you, you hit them back," advised Cedella, Bob's mother. "Let them hit you first. But don't take it, because when you take it, they take you for a beating stick."
The first to try Rohan out as beating stick was his older stepbrother Ziggy. "All Bob children strong and tough," says Cedella. "None of them puny-puny." Next came Rohan's Miami teammates, also not puny-puny, who teased him about his father's ganja smoking and about the alleged looting of Bob's estate by members of his family.
"Sometimes people think you're different when you're not," Rohan says. "I didn't come in as a superstar's son, I came in as a football player. The players don't say, 'Here comes Bob Marley's son' anymore. I'm just Rat. No different." Rat was the name Rohan's teammates finally gave him as a measure of respect for the menacing way he scurried around the field making tackles.
The slurs that most offend Marley's enormous dignity are references to his less-than-enormous height. You would not want to sing Bob Marley's reggae standard Get Up, Stand Up in Rohan's presence, only to discover he was already standing up. Rohan had to play better than taller players to earn a linebacking position. During his redshirt season, Miami's coaches tried to turn him into a cornerback, but he was too eager for contact to spend his life backpedaling.