Lonoke's Elam Week 5 Player of the Week
October 2, 2007
“It brought back memories,” Ronnie Elam said. “He kind of reminded me of myself.”
Ronnie Elam set the career passing yardage record in 1976 at Des Arc when he ended a four-year career with 6,121 yards and 72 touchdowns. It went far beyond state records, however. He was just the fifth quarterback nationally to ever throw for more than 6,000 yards after Joe Ferguson of Shreveport Woodlawn became the first in 1968.
“It was a great experience,” Elam said. “We didn’t run the Spread offense like these kids now. We ran the Pro set.”
Elam completed 406 of 748 passes, and even ran for 23 touchdowns to give him a total of 95 career touchdowns. Elam was also named the Associated Press Super Team quarterback, which was a rare occurrence for a quarterback from a small school.
Elam threw for 1,765 yards and 27 touchdowns during his senior season in guiding Des Arc to the state title. Elam’s record-breaking career came about because he played four years of varsity football, starting as a 15-year-old freshman.
“It was tough,” Elam said. “But we had a good coach and good teams. It was a team effort.”
Elam was too old to play junior high football in the ninth-grade. He moved up and led Des Arc to a 39-9-1 four-year record, two state championship game appearances and one state title.
During that time, Elam and his coach John Rollins formed more than the usual bond between quarterback and coach.
“He’s just a really nice guy,” Elam said. “We talked a lot and shared a lot of things. I still keep in touch with him.”
When his son was born, Elam already had a name in mind.
“I told my wife when my first son is born, I’m naming him after my coach,” Elam said.
Of course, it was a given that Rollins would be a quarterback, and Ronnie coached his teams all through Pee-Wee football.
“He was always harder on me than the others,” Rollins said. “I was expected to do well.”
Growing up in the shadow of his record-setting dad also wasn’t easy.
“People would ask me if I was going to be as good as my dad,” Rollins said.
While Rollins was groomed to be a quarterback, it was only through tragedy that he was thrust into the starting role so soon as a junior when senior-to-be Alex Cash passed away in an automobile accident in June.
“We dedicated the season to him, and to playing our hardest because that’s what he would do,” Rollins said.
Rollins started at fullback last year, which helped his transition into the quarterback role this season.
“He made our line calls for pass protection,” Lonoke head coach Jeff Jones said. “He was directing blocking schemes. It was a good teaching tool for him in the offense.”
Rollins went over the 1,000-yard mark on Friday night and is easily on track to surpass his dad’s single-season numbers. Rollins doesn’t have the speed of his dad but has most of the necessary tools of being a solid quarterback.
“He’s poised,” Jones said. “He’s extremely accurate, and has a strong arm.”
Friday night, Rollins was 26 of 45 for 452 yards and three touchdowns. His 9-yard touchdown pass to Clarence Harris in the third quarter cracked a 14-14 tie and started Lonoke on a 33-point barrage in the second half. He threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Harris later in the quarter and ran five yards for a touchdown as Lonoke began pulling away.
At the half-way point of the season, Rollins has already thrown for 1,308 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Don’t expect dad, though, to let son get the big head.
“I also threw three picks (Friday night),” Rollins said. “And my dad told me to throw to the outside of the receivers on the 'go' routes, not inside, so they can make the play.”
-- Leland Barclay is the author of the Almanac of Arkansas High School Football, a comprehensive history from 1950 through 2006. It is available for $12 at PO Box 6003, Fort Smith, Arkansas 72906.