There’s no doubt that the college football gods were smiling down on Jean-Daniel Roussel this past Saturday when the Pawtucket native and St. Raphael Academy alumnus tied a Sacred Heart record with three interceptions in one game.
The feat, coming in the Pioneers’ 16-0 non-league victory over Bucknell, helped Roussel garner plenty of recognition. He was named the Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Week, with College Football Performance Awards bestowing their National Defensive Back Performer of the Week honor upon him.
Three interceptions … it’s something that I’ve never done,” said Roussel, noting that it’s been 19 years since a Sacred Heart player reached such lofty single-game heights.
To strictly view Roussel’s banner performance as pure coincidence or merely the result of having the bounces go one’s way, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
What this 5-foot-10, 185-pound member of Sacred Heart’s secondary has come to realize is that athletic talent will only get you so far. In order to earn the reputation of a ball-hawking cornerback who can make quarterbacks think twice before throwing in their general vicinity, one has to understand the importance of due diligence away from the gridiron.
Going strictly by what took place last weekend, the promise of tangible results upon fusing these two essential pigskin components has blossomed into reality for Roussel.
“This year, I think I’ve been able to put both parts together where I can mentally and physically prepare myself at the same time,” Roussel explained upon being reached earlier this week. “It’s about becoming more mature, being able to understand the schematics and let my athletic ability take over.
“You can think that you’re the fastest and the strongest. You can catch and cover with the best of them, but there’s a lot of film that goes into becoming one of the best corners,” added Roussel. “Every morning, the corners meet from 7:30-8:30 a.m. That’s like another block class from Monday to Friday. I take five classes during the semester, so I treat that as a sixth class. Homework is always a challenge because there’s always film to watch.
“Preparation is always key. You can be as athletic as you want, but if you don’t know exactly what’s being thrown at you, it’s hard to stop it,” said Roussel. “I believe what I’ve learned this past week and through my years at Sacred Heart is preparation, and that’s going to help prepare me for life and everything that’s thrown at you.”
Roussel hinted at the scheme that allowed him to flourish at Bucknell’s expense. With Sacred Heart featuring just two healthy cornerbacks, the onus fell on Roussel to make sure the Bisons’ air attack remained stuck in neutral.
“This past week, I was instilled as the corner on the island. I didn’t have to focus too much on the run. I just took care of my man,” Roussel explained. “What my coach told me was to only worry about the guy in front of me. Cover him and we’ll win the game.”
The steps Roussel has taken to get to this point are a reminder that nothing is ever handed to you. Originally, he was supposed to take his football talents to Northeastern University, but those plans were nixed after the program folded around Thanksgiving 2009.
Thankfully, the setback proved a mere blip on the radar. In March 2010, Roussel announced that he was Sacred Heart-bound, a development that put everyone at ease with only months remaining prior to graduating from St. Raphael.
Upon arriving at the Connecticut campus, Roussel was told that he would be redshirted for the 2010 season. The following year, he found himself thrust into the starting lineup, a mere 19-year-old going up against seasoned players.
Roussel was more than able to hold his own, ranking second on the 2011 Pioneers in interceptions (three), with one of the picks returned for a score.
“The analogy of being in the game with the big dogs, that was really apparent to me that year,” Roussel shared.
Far from content, Roussel continued to push his body. He finished the 2012 season with two interceptions, again returning one of them for six points. From a team standpoint, Sacred Heart finished 2-9 after compiling 4-7 records in each of the prior two campaigns.
The Pioneers improved to 5-0 after their most recent 2013 triumph. They will carry that pristine mark into this weekend’s NEC opener against defending league champion Wagner.
“We’re really confident. We’ve played against these teams year-in and year-out. They know your first name, last name, and what you ate for dinner. They know everything about you,” Roussel proclaimed. “Conference play is a whole different monster, but we’re going to treat it like each and every week is the same.”
Roussel is a redshirt junior who is on target to graduate with a marketing degree next May. Whether he exercises his fourth year of eligibility will hinge on a confluence of factors.
“I believe it’s going to come down to what’s best for me in the future. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing football and love the Sacred Heart program, but if the opportunity presents itself where I can get a Master’s degree, I’ll definitely think about pursuing that future,” explained Roussel, adding that he’s interested in communications. “It’s more of a decision I’ll make with my mother (Marie), and I’m definitely going to involve the coaching staff. I’m playing it by ear and whatever happens happens, but I’m just trying to focus on this season and make sure we continue our strong start and make it a strong finish.”
Below is a list of updates of former area high school football notables presently making their way on the college scene:
-- Trevor Vasey (Cumberland/St. Raphael) is presently playing wide receiver for North Carolina’s Elon University. The former quarterbacking standout and current sophomore has appeared in several games for the Phoenix, yet is still looking for his first reception.
-- Trent Vasey, a member of Cumberland High’s 2012 Division II Super Bowl team, has appeared in two games for Western New England. So far, the freshman has hauled in one pass for 17 yards.
-- St. Raphael graduate Davon Robertson recorded a sack and three tackles in Harvard’s 41-23 win over Brown last Saturday. A freshman, Robertson is listed as a 6-4, 225-pound defensive lineman on the Crimson’s roster.
Follow Brendan McGair @BWMcGair03