Similar paths, Super status for Rochell, Wilson

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

The football careers of Brandon Wilson and Robert Rochell are remarkably similar. The two former local high school stars were blessed with speed that came from being a natural track athlete. Both could playSBJ spotlight anywhere and do just about anything on a football field.

Their high school coaches say basically the same thing about each.

“Just an A-plus kid,” said former Fair Park coach Mike Greene, who coached Rochell.

“Great kid, a high-character young man,” said John Bachman, Wilson’s coach at Calvary Baptist.

Yet neither was considered a top college prospect. Still, both were drafted into the NFL and now, both are going to the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, there is one similarity – neither is going to play in the game. Maybe.

Both Wilson (Cincinnati) and Rochell (Los Angeles) will be on the sidelines at SoFi Stadium Sunday when their teams meet in Super Bowl LVI.

They say timing is everything, but for Wilson and Rochell it is bad timing. Though both have been regular contributors to their teams this year, they find themselves off the active roster. At least for now.

While Wilson is on the Injured Reserve list and done for the season, Rochell is listed as Injured Reserve/Designated for Return, which means he could be activated.

Wilson, a safety and kick returner, injured his hand in Week 12 while Rochell, a defensive back, suffered a chest injury in December.

After an amazing career at Calvary, Wilson was listed as No. 1,244 in the nation and the No. 72 running back. He was a three-star recruit, which is three stars more than Rochell was as a prospective defensive back.

“It wasn’t like people were knocking down the door,” Greene said of Rochell’s recruitment. “He was maybe 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds.”

In fact, Rochell had never even played football until the ninth grade at Fair Park. “He was a heck of a track guy,” Greene said. “He was going to meets all over the country as a hurdler. I remember when he came out for football, his mom wasn’t too fired up about it but he ended up playing and liking it.”

Greene certainly liked the results he got. “He played a little bit as a freshman and sophomore, but when he was a junior, you could really see that he took off.” he said. “He turned out to be unbelievable.”

When Rochell came back after a year at Central Arkansas, Greene almost didn’t recognize him.

“He’d grown three inches and gained 30 pounds,” he said. “I knew he could play college if someone would give him the chance because he had the speed. He was so fast and flexible that sometimes he could stay in his backpedal and cover a guy and never have to turn because nobody could run by him.”

That kind of speed is what made Wilson something of a legend at Calvary, especially with his exploits in a 2011 game against Evangel. He took a kickoff back 99 yards against the Eagles (“He’s the best kick returner I’ve ever seen,” Bachman said. “I was praying that kick didn’t go into the end zone.”) and later busted a 78-yard run on a fourth-and-three play with less than two minutes to play.

“I told them during the time out that I don’t think we are going to make a first down,” Bachman said. “I think we are going to score a touchdown. We just put the ball in the hands of our best player and Brandon did the rest.”

Though he had a great career as a running back, the University of Houston turned him into a defensive back. Kind of.

Wilson scored eight career touchdowns in six different ways — two rushing, two kickoff returns, a missed field goal return, fumble return, interception return and blocked field goal return. He led Houston in tackles in a win over Oklahoma in 2016 as well as returning a missed field goal 109 yards for a score.

Rochell was drafted in the third round by the Rams in 2021 and Wilson went in the sixth round to the Bengals in 2017.

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