Former Iowa linebacker Vernon Rollins has a much different opinion of Iowa City compared with that emotional day in 1994 when he wanted so desperately to leave town.
Rollins was so convinced that he wanted to return to his home in Hackensack, N.J., that he was waiting to board an airplane at the Eastern Iowa Airport when members of the Iowa coaching staff intervened.
“I definitely wanted to leave,” Rollins said. “I was homesick. I never knew what life outside of New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area meant.
“It was almost a culture shock, the small town. But as it grows on you, and as you get used to it, you start to love it.”
Rollins, 37, was one of the most celebrated high school linebackers in the country when he signed a letter of intent with Iowa in February 1994. But he was forced to take a redshirt season as a true freshman in 1994 to improve his academics.
The combination of not playing and being so far away from home made Rollins unhappy and restless. The Iowa coaches pleaded with him to give the transition more time, and Rollins eventually overcame his homesickness and has lived here ever since.
He met his wife, Kelly, while they were attending the University of Iowa and they now have three children and reside in North Liberty.
The birth of his children helped Rollins overcome the devastating way in which his once-promising football career ended. Rollins suffered a knee injury against Iowa State in the third game of his junior season in 1997.
Rollins was well on his way to meeting the vast expectations he had coming out of high school – he had started every game as a freshman and sophomore – when the injury occurred in the fourth quarter of a game that Iowa won 63-20 in Ames. That game not only marked the end of Iowa’s dominance in the rivalry with Iowa State, but also the end of Rollins’ playing career.
“Of course, after it happened and I never came back, there were a lot of bad nights, a lot of sleepless nights and me wondering what could I have been?” Rollins said. “But it just didn’t happen. For some reason, it just didn’t happen.
“You’ve just got move on. A lot of things happen in this world, and this happened for a reason. And you can’t change it. You just have to keep on going.”
Rollins now is a stay-at-home father for his three children, while his wife works for the University of Iowa.
“Having a family is the best thing in the world,” Rollins said.
Rollins has the added responsibility of caring for his youngest son, 2-year-old Vernon V, who was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, a condition that causes the lungs to not fully develop.
“When my son was born with the disease he had, I couldn’t really work,” Rollins said. “So my wife works at the university, and we have insurance with that.”
Rollins’ decision to plant roots in Iowa City raised a few eyebrows back home in New Jersey, where most of his relatives still live. Rollins made the decision to stay in Iowa City for a number of reasons, including being in a safer environment compared to where he grew up.
“From where I came from, this is definitely more positive,” Rollins said. “It’s a safe place to raise your family with good schools. Having a family and living here is the best thing in the world.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football