It’s easy for youth — and even adults – to see a successful athlete or entertainer and say, “I want to be like that person.” Quinten Rollins did it when he was young.
But despite his fairy tale rise to the NFL, Rollins has not forgotten his roots, his hometown.
On Tuesday, the Green Bay Packers defensive back gave away backpacks filled with school supplies to area students in need.
“Hopefully I can brighten somebody’s day, help them better themselves in some way,” Rollins said to a large gathering of students and adults at Champions in the Making: Forest E. Wilson Center on Clinton Street. “Everybody have a great school year because it’s about school first. Take care of school first and everything else will follow.”
Rollins also autographed and presented one of his Packers jerseys to Chad Carey, who won a raffle that will benefit the Harvest of Gold programs.
One of those Harvest of Gold programs is Hot Hoops. Founded in 1995 by Art Brooks and the late Rev. Larry L. Harris, Hot Hoops was designed as a “program mainly for African-American males to do something positive during the summer and school year to keep them out of trouble,” Brooks said. “When it first started, a lot of our students were just walking the streets, getting in trouble.”
Since its inception, Hot Hoops has grown beyond just African-American males to include females, Hispanics and whites.
“We used the Hot Hoops name just to get their attention,” said Brooks. “Basketball would be the carrot to draw their attention.”
Rollins was one of those youth who was drawn to the program. But not just for the basketball, even though he would go on to star at Wilmington High School and Miami University in basketball and football.
“I was more concerned with building myself as a person,” said Rollins. “Athletics is cool but you’re not going to be able to do it forever. I understood that at a young age.”
Others, too, saw that non-sports twinkle in Rollins’ eye when he was young.
“His work ethic with sports … he had the same work ethic with school,” said Tammy Sexton, a current middle school teacher at Wilmington who taught Rollins in the fourth grade. “Even in fourth grade (an education) was a priority. I remember because that’s when the proficiency tests first started and he was determined to figure out a way to be successful with that. We did a lot of things together. We went to the theater together. We tutored together and he just had that same focus.”
So when Rollins told Sexton what he wanted to do when he was older, she wasn’t going to doubt him.
“We asked the kids ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’” said Sexton. “He (Rollins) said he wanted to play basketball somewhere where his family could watch him play on TV.
“But I look at him today and I don’t think he ever, at that time, guessed he’d have the impact that he would have. He is a great success story.”
Hot Hoops — and a strong family dynamic — helped the motivated Rollins achieve that success.
“(Hot Hoops) meant a lot to me,” he said. “Just having a place where I could go and play with some kids or go to different events. I never thought I was ever going to be able to go to a Reds game, an NBA game. What Hot Hoops stood for, bringing kids in this community together and showing them a different part of life outside of Wilmington.”
Rollins said Brooks and other Hot Hoops leaders were instrumental in his development.
“Art Brooks would pick you up and take you to UDF (United Dairy Farmers) for ice cream or to the park to shoot hoops, take you to the YMCA, different things like that,” Rollins said. “He helped me overall with my drive and what I wanted to do with my life.
“I knew they embraced the kids in this community and gave us something to look at other than ripping and running the streets. They were mentors that cared about us. They wanted to upbuild us.”
As training camp nears for his second season in the NFL, Rollins understands there might be some kid out there watching him, wanting to be like Rollins when he or she grows up.
While Rollins would never deter anyone’s bid for an athletic career, he realizes they are short-lived and your life must be well-rounded.
“You have to build yourself on being successful outside of sports first because you can’t bank on this (sports),” said Rollins. “This is a crazy business; you can be here today and gone tomorrow. You have to pride yourself on being built on something other than athletics and that’s what I did at an early age.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports