MISSOULA — Dylan Rollins downed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the ferocity that he’d drive defensive linemen and linebackers into the ground.
The Missoula Sentinel offensive lineman had his daily routine of eating a sandwich during every class period this past fall except during first-period weight training and fifth period, which was right after lunch. It was part of Rollins’ plan of eating throughout the day, from the minutes after he woke up to right before he went to sleep as he tried to pack on weight.
“A lot of my teachers make jokes about it because I’m just always eating,” Rollins recalled with a laugh. “I have to make sure I’m eating good food because if all that I’m eating is chocolate muffins and chips, I’m going to look like a chocolate muffin, I’m going to play like a chocolate muffin, I’m not going to play good.”
With his protein-dense meals that also included eggs and meat for breakfast, trail mix to snack on and then some chicken, Rollins grew from a skinny 6-foot-3, 195-pound freshman to a 6-5 1/2, 285-pound senior-to-be who filled out his frame while filling up his inbox with interest from college coaches who want him to play for their team. He’s been drawing the eye of over a dozen FCS and FBS football teams, mostly from the western United States but pushing east.
Rollins already has 10 Division I offers, most recently from Nebraska, and many other schools have expressed interest in him. He’s the highest-rated football prospect to come out of the state of Montana in six years, according to 247Sports, and could be the state’s first player to go to the FBS ranks in seven years when he makes his college commitment later this fall.
“It’s not really stressful yet because I haven’t had to make the decision,” Rollins said. “It’s just been a really enjoyable experience. Talking to the coaches, it’s awesome, it’s very humbling, it makes you want to work really hard when a coaches says, 'We love your film, we think you’re a great player and we want you to play for our school.’ That definitely drives you to work hard.”
Born to ball
Football is in Rollins’ genes. His father Josh played offensive line at Montana State. His brother Byron plays defensive line for the Cats. And a great grandfather on his mother’s side, Roy Bray, played quarterback for the Griz in the 1950s.
Rollins hasn’t known anything other than playing on the offensive line. He landed there as a naturally bigger kid while playing flag football before graduating to tackle football with Missoula Youth Football from fourth through eighth grade.
While the line is where Rollins has been slotted, he’s come to find pride in the position, not feeling that he needs the ball in his hands to enjoy the game.
“I just love the physicality,” Rollins said. “Every play, I get to go out and hit someone. You don’t get that at any other position. Having the satisfaction of moving a guy from in front of you and moving him against his will backward, that’s something that’s an amazing feeling. That’s my touchdown.”
Most colleges who’ve offered Rollins see him as a tackle, but at an FBS school like Nebraska, where players are much bigger, he might slot in at guard. He prefers tackle over guard and has played both at Sentinel, starting at left tackle as a sophomore and showing his flexibility by playing the majority of his junior season at guard so Sentinel could get its five best linemen on the field. He also feels he fits better on the left side of the line because his right leg is his dominant leg, so it feels more natural for him having that leg be forward in his stance.
In addition to his size and versatility, Rollins also has a wingspan of 81 inches, four inches more than his height. That’s another thing that helped him draw at least initial interest from college teams like Nebraska and Stanford, schools who’ve never before called Sentinel coach Dane Oliver, a former Montana wide receiver, to talk about a recruit.
“To play at the FBS level, you have to have the stature and frame to hold that weight,” Oliver said. “He’s got the measurables. They want to see a certain tenacity. We talk about finishing on the O-line, and that jumps out when you watch his highlight tape. He has the size and he plays hard. They’ll fix the technical stuff.”
Rollins also boasts a 3.75 GPA and has taken on more of a leadership role as an offseason captain this summer. While he can be quiet off the field, his play on the field speaks volumes as he’s learned to use his size and strength as he’s grown into his body, learning the ropes as a first-year varsity starter as a sophomore and finding comfort in the offense as a junior.
“He’s a mauler,” Oliver said. "That’s a good quality for an offensive lineman. He’s got the big, long arms to keep people away in pass sets. He’ll continue to get better with technique, speed, and agility that the college programs will emphasize. He’s on the path. Time and growth will set him apart.”
At least Oliver and the Spartans have one more year before a college team pries him away.
“He’s a once-in-a-career lineman for us,” Oliver said. “Maybe you get a guy like him a few times. We know we’re blessed. He’s big, he’s athletic and he’s a leader. When you get those kids, you just want to help nurture them.”
Wrestling and weight training
Rollins has also tried to show his physicality on the wrestling mat following the football season.
He wrestled in the heavyweight division as a 195-pound freshman going up against wrestlers who could be up to 285 pounds. He got up to 220 pounds for football his sophomore year but eventually dropped down to 200 pounds from the intense demands of wrestling.
The weight loss caused him to have to focus on putting on even more weight for an important junior season in which recruiters would be watching. He didn’t wrestle this past winter because of a wrist injury, but he’s seen his wrestling work pay off on the football field in another form.
“What’s awesome about it is that taught me so much about leverage and how to get guys to move and just improve my balance,” Rollins said.
He bulked up to 6-5, 255 pounds heading into his junior season and started to pop up on more and more recruiting radars after having just one offer, from Montana State. He added 25-30 pounds more after the season before he went to Nebraska for their Junior Day in late January.
Rollins had to make sure he was putting on good weight, and he had trainers to help him make sure he was doing that. He’s been working out at ZooTown CrossFit with John Petroff since he was in middle school, learning functional aspects of fitness, like improving his hip mobility and back mobility.
“Something that coaches have talked a lot about is how they see how well I bend for an offensive lineman and how well I move,” Rollins said. “He helped me out with that a lot.”
Rollins also spent the past year and half at Access Fitness working with Doug Lefler, a Frenchtown native and former all-American javelin thrower, as he prepared for his junior season.
“When I was working with him, just how much more explosive I was and how much stronger I was, was insane,” Rollins said.
He’s seen those benefits from wrestling and weightlifting, along with his increased height and weight, pay off on the field as a junior as he had more time learning Sentinel’s offensive system. And the college coaches noticed.
“I came in and was like, ‘OK, this is the year where I have to show up and show coaches that I’m the real deal,’” Rollins recalled. “Just learning how to have that competitive, killer instinct every play is something that I learned over time.”
Rollins’ recruitment might have been even brighter than it already has been if the coronavirus pandemic and injuries didn’t force him to cancel some trips to colleges or camps.
The NCAA has cut off in-person contact between coaches and recruits through Aug. 31, so Rollins had to call off visits to spring practices or summer camps at Arizona State, Utah, Utah State, Boise State, BYU and Cal. He took game day visits to Oregon State and Washington, and he’s been talking with them along with Stanford, Hawaii, Navy and Central Michigan. Also, he recently started talking with Colorado, Kansas State, North Dakota State and Weber State.
None of them have offered him because they haven’t been able to see him in person yet, he noted.
“It’s tough because a guy says he’s so big and he weighs so much, but you really don’t know how big he is or what his build is until you see him,” Rollins said. “Being able to show that would definitely be able to get them a better assessment on me and hopefully get some more offers.”
Yet, he does have 10 offers so far. Montana State, Montana, Northern Arizona, Bucknell and FBS Air Force have all offered him full-ride scholarships. Ivy League schools Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and Cornell have extended offers, although they can’t give athletic scholarships. And Nebraska gave him a preferred walk-on spot last week.
Rollins had been considering college football since seeing his brother commit to MSU in 2014, but he didn’t know then if he’d be good enough to play at that level. His performance in high school and at camps assured him he was.
It started in the spring after his sophomore season at the Next Up Camp in Seattle, where he earned three-star status from 247Sports, which has him ranked as the No. 115 O-line recruit in the country. The site also has him with a rating of 83, the highest for a high schooler from Montana since Corvallis’ Jesse Sims, who flipped from Oregon State to Montana, had a rating of 85 in the class of 2015. The lack of such scouting camps in Montana to earn those stars and ratings means some players miss out on being included in those rankings, but numbers are numbers, and Rollins put them up when given the chance.
Should Rollins end up at an FBS school, he’d be the first high schooler from Montana to do that since Bozeman’s Will Dissly went to Washington as part of the 2014 recruiting class. He could’ve had a better shot at already getting more of those offers if not for injuries.
Rollins sprained his right ankle during summer camp before his junior season, keeping him from going to camps at Washington and Washington State. He also missed out on a combine in Florida in January because of surgery on his right wrist, which he fractured during football but played through.
With schools still interested, Rollins will have his shot to earn more offers. He’s heading to a combine camp in Las Vegas at the end of July where scouts for 247Sports will be and where he’ll gain more film that he can send to college coaches to show him at his new size.
“Hopefully I’ll get a four-star ranking, or if not, have the confirmation that I’m a three-star athlete,” Rollins said. “If I’m there and the competition is way up and I’m rolling with them and they see that I move, that I play like a four-star athlete, that would hopefully open some more doors.”
Rollins wanted to make his decision before his senior season started, but he’s going to be holding out. Teams he didn’t get to visit want to see film of him at his new weight because they didn’t get to see him in person.
He’ll be sending those teams highlight videos from his senior season, shipping off a batch of the first three games and another set of the second three games. How much and what type of interest he gets from teams would affect when he makes his decision.
“Just whenever the time feels right that I’m like, ‘Hey, this is a decision that I’m ready to make,’” Rollins said.
There are several factors Rollins will be considering when picking a college. Among those are the football environment, how much he’ll play, where he’ll play, how the players are treated, and how the school’s credentials and majors offered fit into his plan. He’s considering civil engineering but said he’s not tied down to that and could change his mind any day.
Both the Cats and the Griz are still among the teams he’s currently considering. He grew up with some love for the Cats because his dad and later his brother plays there, and they went to games. But he also grew up right down the street from the Griz, where his great-grandfather played, although he never got to meet him before he died.
On his trip to Montana State, Rollins was impressed with the game day environment and family culture that coach Jeff Choate is implementing. At Montana, he enjoyed the game day environment as well as the chance to play in front of friends and family in his hometown and with several current or former high school teammates, although that last aspect isn’t what he’s going to be basing his decision on.
“I’ve never really had a dream school where I was like, ‘This is where I want to go,’ from the time I was little,” Rollins said.
He’s keeping his options as open as the wide wingspan on the filled-out frame that’s made him one of the state’s most coveted recruits in recent years.
“I’m just staying hungry, staying working, getting ready for season; that’s what’s important now,” Rollins said. “I’ll think about college when that time comes.”
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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