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Jimmy Rolder discusses acclimating to college football, how baseball helped him

The freshman linebacker has spent the season growing, both physically and mentally.

Connecticut v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

A composite four-star who was ranked No. 21 in the country at his position, the thing that impressed the coaching staff at Michigan about true freshman linebacker Jimmy Rolder went deeper than the stars or the number next to his name — his grit.

That grit is what prompted Jim Harbaugh to call him a true “Big Ten linebacker,” something Rolder is admittedly still trying to figure out.

“Honestly, I’m not 100% sure in what he means by that,” Rolder said Tuesday evening. “But honestly just someone who can compete at a high level, just come in and work everyday, just get better and compete when I’m out there.”

After an impressive debut against Colorado State, Rolder had a near-silent next seven games, finishing four games absent from the stat-sheet and three with only a single tick in the tackles column. His four-tackle performance against Rutgers served as a bit of a reintroduction, complete with being named Defensive Freshman of the Game.

The almost two months between standout performances for Rolder weren’t spent poorly — using the time to fully address what he called a difficult mental adjustment to college.

“It’s been a lot tougher mentally compared to physically,” Rolder said. “Just coming in fall camp, cause I wasn’t an early enrollee, so just having to retain everything kinda fast. It was definitely tough in the beginning, but it’s getting easier as I go — which is kinda expected, but it was definitely tougher mentally than I had originally thought.

“I think (the different blitzes and zone coverages) is pretty much a big reason, the main reason. Just coming in I thought I knew the game of football, but when I got here there was so much to learn and understand. And being the MIKE (linebacker) you’ve got to understand what everybody's doing on every play, so it was just a lot to learn.”

To help with the acclimation, Rolder fell back on what he learned during his days on the baseball diamond.

“Instinct and reaction is just I think the biggest part,” he said. “Baseball is also a game of short memory. You get three out of 10 times, success, that’s good. So if I have a bad play, just moving on and being able to forget it I think is the biggest thing that came from that.”

With plenty of time left in his college career, Rolder has time to continue improving. And his performance against Rutgers is a positive sign of his ability to contribute in the short term.