Rolo stepped up instead of staying down


POSTED: Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Nick Rolovich traces it back.

Before the BYU blowout, before the shootout with Ben Roethlisberger and before the lob to Ashley Lelie against Fresno State.

He knows he is remembered fondly—and rightly so—for his masterful work in the 2001 season, when he improbably emerged for a second chance and led Hawaii to a 9-3 record, including 8-1 as a starter.

His 20 touchdown passes over the final three games of the season (Miami of Ohio, Air Force, and BYU) is a school record not even Colt Brennan could break. He ranks ninth in UH total offense (4,201 yards) with just 14 games played for his career, and his 300.1 yards per game is third only to Brennan and Tim Chang.

These are a handful of the things for which Rolo is remembered.

But he won't allow himself to forget what preceded his redemption.

Now the UH quarterbacks coach, he leans back in his office at the athletics complex. The late-afternoon sun casts a sheen on some witnesses to his accomplishments: about a dozen footballs from his days as a pro in NFL Europe and the Arena Football League.

Things weren't always this bright.

When Rolovich arrived in 2000 from the Bay Area, it was his first time away from home. He didn't have to travel far for junior college, where he led City College of San Francisco to the national title.

He won the UH starting job, beating out seven other QBs—including Chang, the highly-touted Saint Louis alum—for the opening-night nod against Portland State.

Things had fallen into place easily for him, and therein was the problem; his focus was admittedly not where it should have been to deal with the complexities of the run-and-shoot.

UH stumbled against the Division I-AA Vikings, and during the following game, a blowout loss at UTEP, a rattled Rolovich was demoted. The darkness crept in, and Chang finished most of the rest of a forgettable year.

“;The offense as a scheme humbled me,”; Rolovich said. “;I didn't have very good discipline as far as priorities, how I spent my time. First time away from home, got a little wild. I was lucky I came back, and I think by being benched in 2000, helped me understand that that wasn't going to get me anywhere if I wanted football to continue for me.”;

Rolo hid his anguish well.

“;I think I'm extroverted anyway, but inside I was, I guess,”; he paused, “;hurting is the right word. I'd become friends with a lot of the guys, and I felt like I'd let them down. I thought I'd let Coach June (Jones) down. You know, I think if I'd prepared better I could have at least given a better performance. I was disappointed in myself, really.”;

He swore to earn back his coach's trust, and that of his teammates. He put in time in the film room in the early mornings, leaving notes for Jones that if he wanted to watch film with him, he'd be there.

But Rolovich mentally prepared himself for life beyond football. By 2001, he was ready to become a firefighter, following his father and several others in his family. Only the attacks of Sept. 11 nixed his scheduled firefighter's test, when UH's road game at Nevada was delayed.

Still, he kept at it—and not just the Xs and Os. He paid attention to the local lifestyle, which was something of a curiosity to him his first year. Rolovich saw his bonds with his teammates increase as a result.

Chang went out with an injured wrist the third game that year, a loss to Rice. Rolo, who had planned to redshirt, made it back onto the field the following game against SMU ... and the Warriors had his back.

“;We were on the road, and the first half wasn't really good,”; Rolovich said of the 17-3 halftime deficit. “;I remember Chris Brown grabbed me when we walked into halftime, telling me how everybody believed in me, and I'd better get my stuff together because they knew I could do it.”;

Rolovich then began what would become a recurring theme: second-half heroics that galvanized the state. The Warriors came back to beat the Mustangs in overtime.

When No. 18 Fresno State picked him off on back-to-back balls later in the season, he knew the defense would come through for him, and it did. Rolo shook off his struggles for the game-winning “;Jumpball to Lelie”; play in the corner of the end zone with 13 seconds left to beat the Bulldogs 38-34.

His confidence and knowledge of the offense grew with each contest. By the time the Warriors squared off against the then-unbeaten BYU Cougars in the season finale, everything was perfectly aligned. He could see things develop before they happened.

The difference: This time it hadn't come easy. It was a result of those early hours in the film room. A result of time spent with the likes of Lelie, Brown, Thero Mitchell, Craig Stutzmann, and Vince Manuwai to go over each game immediately after it ended. A result of countless pizzas bought for his offensive linemen—one for each 300-yard game in a win.

“;That's all part of what made the 2001 year so special,”; said Brian Smith, Rolovich's center. “;The comraderie that built amongst the team and the friendships that were made. That's what ended up being important, and that's where players ended up playing a lot harder for each other. That's where having Rolo as a leader really made that 2001 year possible.”;

Rolo tagged UH's hated rivals for a school record eight touchdowns (another mark that survived the Brennan era) and 543 yards in the 72-45 blowout. In the process, he put an exclamation point on a season that went a long way toward creating Hawaii's own bowl game.

Though touchdowns over a three-game span aren't tracked as a record, an NCAA record-keeper said Rolo's 20 TDs in the last three games ranks among the highest all-time.

These are the things for which Nick Rolovich is remembered, and rightly so.

Star-Bulletin sportswriter Brian McInnis observed Nick Rolovich's 2001 exploits from the UH student section. Tomorrow we unveil No. 29. See starbulletin.com for more on “;The Centurions.”;





Rolo's run

        Nick Rolovich's stats in ten 2001 games:

» Sep. 22: 0-for-1, 0 TD, 0 yards in loss at Nevada


» Oct. 6: 31-for-51, 2 TDs, 325 yards in win at SMU


» Oct. 13: 17-for-35, 3 TDs, 252 yards in win vs. UTEP


» Oct. 20: 25-for-34, 3 TDs, 324 yards in win at Tulsa


» Oct. 26: 30-for-53, 3 TDs, 347 yards in win vs. Fresno State


» Nov. 3: 18-for-35, 2 TDs, 307 yards in win vs. San Jose State


» Nov. 10: 23-for-45, 1 TD, 258 yards in loss vs. Boise State


» Nov. 17: 30-for-53, 7 TDs, 500 yards in win vs. Miami (Ohio)


» Nov. 24: 30-for-46, 5 TDs, 505 yardrs in win vs. Air Force


» Dec. 8: 29-for-52, 8 TDs, 543 yards in win vs. BYU



        543: Number of passing yards for Nick Rolovich in his final game as quarterback for the Hawaii Warriors in a 72-45 blowout of previously undefeated Brigham Young.