The first time I interviewed Antrel Rolle, I was just getting my feet wet in reporting and he was just starting to get everyone's attention for his football talents at South Dade.
Ten years after I wrote my first high school football story on him -- one his father Al, Homestead's police chief, still keeps in his office -- I caught up Antrel for another on Tuesday. This time, it was about the South Dade kid who made good at The U and is doing even better now in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. And by doing better, I mean by his contributions to his community. Tuesday, South Dade High renamed its weight room in Rolle's honor after he gave the school $30,000 this past Christmas. It bought new football uniforms, the $10,000 weight room floor, $5,000 in weights and a bunch of other stuff.
If you've ever been in a Miami-Dade or Broward High School weight room or athletic facility, you know just how poor the facilities run down they are. Most of the time, the equipment is out of date or just flat out dangerous. Rolle's money is going a long way toward helping his alma mater build a new image with its new campus.
But today's act of kindness isn't the only thing Rolle should be applauded for. He's been giving back for years. You just haven't heard much about it. He's not only given $4,000 to Southridge for their school to buy new uniforms, he's provided nine academic scholarships of $2,500 at South Dade and Homestead and helped back 140 kids in Florida City as part of the Marlins RBI program. His dad couldn't be prouder of his son, who planned to with former Canes teammate and the late Sean Taylor to do these quiet acts of kindness. Now, its just Antrel.
Anyway, I caught up with Mr. Rolle and found out he's also been busy working out at UM and helping several Canes cornerbacks get their acts together. Here's what he had to say.
Q: Why do you feel its so important to give back to your community? Some guys don't like coming back to their neighborhood because it wasn't safe or a place they enjoyed too much. Yet, you live right down the street from here. You run by here everyday.
AR: "For me, not a lot of people can say they made it from South Dade. I am one of the very fortunate and blessed who have made it and I want to come back and show them you don't have to move to Hollywood when you make it. You can be the same young and humble young man who just has a little more money in their pocket and a little more success and a public eye watching you. You don't have to leave from your hood. You can keep your foundation, your place of residence. I've always chosen to live down here because of my family."
Q: You played and won a national title. What was it like to play in the Super Bowl?
AR: "It was a life changing experience. I was 26 playing in the Super Bowl. Not a lot of people can even say they played in a Super Bowl, period. It was something you can't describe into words and something you definitely yearn for again."
Q: What was it like to be that close to winning and having Santonio Holmes snatch it from you?
AR: "I was on the opposite side [during the game-winning catch]. There are so many times I think and wish I could turn back the hands of time. I was wishing just for that one play. We switched all the time during the game. I just happened to choose the wrong side. It was a great play, a fantastic catch. But I think we gave the audience a fantastic show nobody predicted. Eight of 10 teams don't even make it to the playoffs after the Super Bowl. We just want to make sure we're not one of those eight teams."
Q: How is this year's Cardinals team going to look?
AR: "I think we're going to be pretty dynamic. Everyone is pretty much in place. We have a few guys that have endured a few bumps and bruises, contract situations. But I think we will get past it and once we do everyone will be looking forward to a fantastic year."
Q: You made a comment during Super Bowl week about the Canes that opened a few eyes. What were you really trying to say about your old program?
AR: "Just that I thought they were missing the swagger that made me attend the University of Miami when I went there. That same swagger that will help you come back from any deficit and help you stay on top. I just feel like we have to get better mentally, not physically. Those guys are a great physical group. I think they may have the fastest group that's ever been at UM. But I think they need to understand the pride and history that goes at the University of Miami. I feel like that will take them miles away from they are now."
Q: Have you tried working with some of those young guys while you've been working out at UM this summer?
AR: "I've had a few conversations with Chavez Grant. And I ran with [Demarcus] VanDyke and watched some film with him, just showed him how to breakdown the film and gave him pointers. All of those guys have my number. I talk to Randy Phillips all the time. I tell him if there is anything you need, give me a call."
Q: Four interceptions for the Canes secondary last year. You used to get four interceptions in your sleep. What was your reaction to that ugly stat?
AR: "Not good. From my end in the backfield, we were going to get that ball. We were fighting to get the ball. If it wasn't myself, it was Sean. It was Ed [Reed]. It was Phil [Buchanon]. We were hungry and we wanted to get that ball. I just feel like they have to get that same mentality. They need to learn how to play the ball once its in the air and become that defense that intimidates you before the game even starts."
Q: I was talking to Devin Hester last week about the new wave of Canes in the NFL and who might be able to carry the flag for The U moving forward now that guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Edgerrin James are getting older. You know the first round streak ended. But guys like you, Jon Beason, Kenny Phillips can keep the U visible. Why is it important?
AR: "I think it's important for us to keep it going. It shows the guys here it doesn't matter where you started or where you get drafted, its what you do when you get there. That's the one thing I've been trying to talk to the guys down at Miami about -- it doesn't matter what's happened up until now. It's where you finish."