Going into the 2017 college football season, things had lined up about as well as could have been expected for Villanova safety Rob Rolle.

The 6-foot, 185-pound senior was voted as the Colonial Athletic Association's preseason defensive player of the year and was also an FCS preseason all-American.

A strong final season on the Main Line, and Rolle, a resident of Newfield, N.J., and two-time state champion at Delsea High School, would have an even bigger presence on the radar for the 2018 NFL draft. As a three-time CAA all-academic team selection, Rolle was scheduled to graduate with a major in communication and a minor in sociology.

In the fourth game of the season, against Albany, everything changed.

Rolle was one of three Wildcats to suffer season-ending injuries that day. Because Rolle's injury happened before Villanova had completed 30 percent of the 2017 season, he was able to request a medical redshirt from the NCAA, which granted it.

He's back at Nova as a fifth-year graduate student looking to finish some business on the football field, but also with a new appreciation for the game he has played since he was a kid.

"It's kind of been a blessing in disguise," Rolle said of the knee injury. "At first, I was down in the dumps because I didn't know what the future would look like past Villanova.

"I got hurt on a Saturday, and on Sunday, [Villanova coach Mark Ferrante] was showing me the NCAA rule book about applying for a redshirt. Once I knew the chances were good that I would be able to come back, my mind was immediately 100 percent focused on doing that."

Rolle had 14 tackles before getting injured last season.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Rolle had 14 tackles before getting injured last season.

The Wildcats lost three of last season's starting defensive backs to graduation, but they now have the benefit of returning a free safety who was voted onto the 2018 all-CAA preseason first team.

"I felt like I owed it to my teammates to come back," said Rolle, who had 14 tackles and two pass breakups before getting injured. "I felt like I owed something to the coaching staff and the school for the support they have given me through the injury and the three years before that.

"At some point, you have to look to the future, but there is definitely unfinished business here at Villanova. I think I'm looking forward to this season more than any before."

Rolle said that watching from the sideline, injured, as his "brothers" went out to play is not something that can be explained to any player who has not been through it.

"You've been fully involved, fully invested, and then you're just watching," said Rolle, who is projected as a Day 3 selection in the 2019 NFL draft. "Every week, you're on the sideline thinking I'm sure I would give an arm right now if I could just go suit up.

"Going through that changes your perspective on the game. It's given me a new love. Take away the glitz, the glamour, the hoo-rah because now I just want to play football.

"Myself, my coaches, my teammates, my family, we expect to go back on there and be back to normal, full-speed, play all out."