Jumal Rolle has gone from practice squad to a magnet for interceptions in just a few short months as a first-year cornerback.
The North Carolina native's journey to Houston hasn't been easy, with no family or friends nearby. Rolle's mother, Letitia, passed away two years ago and was among his biggest supporters. She never had a chance to see him play football at the professional level, but Rolle still feels her presence when he's on the field at NRG Stadium.
"She made every game - I heard her. She sat at the 50-yard line," Rolle said on Texans Radio, recalling his mother. "I can still hear her now even while I'm playing here."
In early October, Rolle returned from practice in Green Bay to a number of missed calls. The Packers had a short week, getting ready for their Thursday night game against Minnesota. A member of the practice squad at the time, Rolle got the call he'd been waiting for – an opportunity to make the Houston Texans active roster.
"I didn't know anything about the team, the coaches, the players and I'd never been to Houston before," Rolle said. "It was a big risk that I took, so I just figured it out. Went in and worked hard and tried to make a name for myself, and everything will be okay."
Rolle did just that and the results turned out more than okay.
Through just five games, Rolle currently leads the Texans defense with three interceptions. He picked up his first two against Philadelphia in Week 9 and added his third on Sunday, against the Titans.
"The thing that I noticed about him right off the bat, regardless of systems, is that he's an instinctive player," head coach Bill O'Brien said Wednesday. "He's always around the ball and he has good ball skills. He's able to catch the football, which sounds simple, but some guys they really have to work at that. Jumal really has good ball skills."
Rolle, an undrafted free agent in 2013, also had 16 interceptions in his collegiate career and finished off with an All-America senior season. He grew up in Wilson and then attended Catawba, a small Division II school just over 200 miles away in Salisbury, North Carolina. Known for its music and theater program, Catawba was one of the few schools that recruited Rolle.
"My mom, she took the visit with me to Catawba," Rolle said. "It was a good opportunity to be recognized. Small classroom, small school, not a real big student base. It was a good opportunity for me to try to stand out as far as where I wanted to end up, which is here. Everything ended up going the right way for me."
If it hadn't, Rolle had a backup plan. His mother was disabled, dealing with lung disease and an enlarged heart. Rolle was determined to find a way to support her financially, whether it was through football or through his education. He pursued his degree in therapeutic recreation and hoped to take care of his mom, calling it his "Plan B."
"My senior year going into college, she passed away," Rolle said. "So I had to play my senior year without here. It was pretty much dedicated to her. Before my senior year I had made my mind up as to what I wanted to do after football because the reality is, football doesn't last very long. So I wanted to take care of her. That was my biggest goal. To have a job and to be legally responsible for her."
Rolle is one of two Catawba alums that is currently playing in the NFL (the other is 49ers defensive back L.J. McCray). According to Catawba's sports information department, Rolle is one of just five Catawba players to have significant playing time in the NFL.
The 24-year-old calls it "a great honor" to represent his school at the professional level and is certain his mom would be proud of how far he's come. Her words of advice have guided him along the way.
"One thing I remember she would always say before the game is: no matter what happens just do you," Rolle said. "That basically meant just stay focused, don't worry about the outside. Don't worry about what's happening to you even through adversity. Just stay focused and do me."
And he is.