Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

SPORTS>>Rollins Elam: Like father, like son

Leader sportswriter

Rollins Elam comes by his football talent naturally.

Jamie Elam led the Des Arc Eagles to their only state championship back in the mid-1970s, earning high school All-American honors along the way. He also set numerous passing records around the state, many of which stood until the rise of the pass-oriented Spread offense a decade ago.

Some 30 years later, Jamie’s son appeared to be on his way to repeating his father’s feat when Rollins led the Jackrabbits to the 4A state quarterfinals last month.

Rollins racked up impressive numbers while doing so, completing 160 of 301 passes for 2,616 yards and 27 touchdowns and compiled a 16-4 record as a starter at Lonoke.

As a result, Rollins Elam has been named the 2008 Leader Offensive Player of the Year.

Elam was an All-Conference and All-State selection his junior and senior years. He was also named an outstanding back in Class 4A football this year, and was nominated for best offensive player in Class 4A.

“It was a great season,” said Elam. “We were expected to do good this year. We had a lot of returning starters coming back. We happened to run into a pretty good team to end our season in the playoffs, and they went on to win the championship. It was a good season. We just hated to come up short.”

At only 5-9, 180 pounds, Elam may not be big, but his strong arm, combined with his leadership skills made him the go-to guy for Lonoke head coach Jeff Jones, now preparing for his fourth season at the ’Rabbit helm.

“It’s big for his teammates,” Jones said. “Knowing that they have that kind of leader out there who knows what’s going on.

They look to him all the time. Usually as Rollins went, we went. If he was on and doing well, we were doing well. The team really bought into him being the leader, and they followed well.”

Elam’s days as a quarterback go back to first grade, when he played in Cabot youth leagues before Lonoke got its own program a couple of years later.

Elam got an early jump on understanding the Xs and Os of Jones’ newly-installed Spread offense during his sophomore season when he was a blocking back behind quarterback Alex Cash. The Spread was a departure for the Lonoke varsity team, which had been known for its rushing offenses.

It wasn’t physical prowess that got him the job leading Jones’ offense; it was mental toughness and a thorough understanding of the game.

“He was always asking questions about different aspects of running the offense,” Jones said. “Trying to figure out the small details early that make you special.

“He was probably the least athletic of the guys that were going out for quarterback. So that first year, he didn’t play any at quarterback.”

Elam got his chance earlier than expected, but that opportunity came at a devastating price. Cash died in a car accident in the spring before his senior year.

Elam got off to an outstanding start to his high school quarterbacking career but a leg injury suffered in a playoff-clinching win over Marianna cut short his 2007 season.

Elam returned to fall camp fully recovered, and embarked on a dream season, which began with a 35-20 win over Dumas at UAPB during Hootens’ kickoff week.

Beebe handed Lonoke its only loss in the regular season 28-19 in Week 2, but a thrilling 41-38 win over Central Arkansas Christian the following week set the tone for a dominant run through the 2-4A Conference and a 7-0 record, including a decisive 41-22 win over Stuttgart, a perennial favorite in 4A football every season.

Elam proved to be a consistent performer, leading the Jackrabbits to a number of blowout wins, which included a 45-24 spanking of Warren in the second round of the playoffs.

While fellow seniors Joel Harris, Clarence Harris, Michael Howard and Morgan Linton were drawing the notice of colleges, Elam has continued to fly under the radar and has received no scholarship offers.

He should do just fine, however, with a 3.5 GPA and 21 ACT score. He plans on going to college and pursuing a degree in education, though he hasn’t decided on a school.

Rollins got much of his education in football from his legendary father, who also served as a coach during his youth-league days.

“It helped out a lot,” Elam said. “He always pushed me harder than all of the other kids. He expected more, and it made me a better player. It’s kind of cool your dad was an all American and everything. You’re expected to do well also. You’ve got to fill in the shoes where he left off.”

Elam gives a lot of credit to linemen and a talented corps of receivers, led by fellow senoirs Howard and Clarence Harris, who made the tough catches all year.

“I wouldn’t have made it without them,” he said.
Jones credits Elam’s enthusiasm and passion for much of his success.

“He just wants to play, and play to win,” he said. “That doesn’t just go for Friday nights, it’s also Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He’s the kind of guy you have to have on your team to win championships. He had a great career for us.”

Football is one of Elam’s two great passions. The other is duck hunting. Elam’s duck-calling skills rival his ability at quarterback, but he opts not to do that competitively, citing the trendy duck-calling competitions in the area as “silliness.”

Elam will most likely pass on the reins to sophomore Logan Dewitt, who saw playing time late in blowout wins this season.

“He played in Rollins’ shadow this year and saw the kind of leadership it takes to play,” Jones said. “He and I had a lot of talks about it, and I know he diligently watched and learned from Rollins. I think he’s really going to blossom into a great one, and Rollins is going to be a big part of that, the way he showed him how to play the game.”

Elam was the first of his kind at Lonoke High School, a pure passing quarterback. The 2-4A title season has put the football Jackrabbits back on the map, validating the decade of dreaming and hard work by Elam and his fellow seniors, many of whom have played together since age eight.

“The teams right before us didn’t have very good records,” Elam said. “We kind of set a new standard with a 10-2 record.

That’s the best Lonoke has had since around 2000. That’s a really good feeling to show the state and our community what we were really made of.”