Submitted and written by The Daily Journal, 8/1/14, reprinted with permission
Posted: Aug 04, 2014
A new wrinkle in the relationship between the Chicago Bears and Olivet Nazarene University surfaced Thursday when the NFL club signed Dennis Roland to a one-year contract.
Roland, an offensive tackle who spent the previous six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, is experiencing a homecoming as he reports to Olivet for training camp, which continued today and runs through Aug. 13.
His father, also named Dennis Roland, was Olivet's head football coach from 1986-90, and his son, now 31, was a familiar sight at Tigers' team functions during those years.
The elder Roland passed away in 2008 at the age of 51. The Bears began training at Olivet in 2002 and the current camp is in its 13th year at the Bourbonnais campus.
Roland will add size, experience and depth to the Bears' offensive line. He stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 315 pounds. He played in 71 games for the Bengals, starting in 30. He also played in four playoff games while in Cincinnati, starting in one.
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Boyhood home beckons Bears' lineman Roland
by Kyle Nabors for The Daily Journal, 8/2/14, reprinted with permission
Dennis Roland walked across Olivet Nazarene University's campus and into a Bourbonnais neighborhood to the south Thursday afternoon.
Roland, a 6-foot-9-inch, 315-pound offensive lineman who had signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears earlier in the day, turned onto Blanchette Avenue.
There he ran into retired Olivet professor John Hanson and asked where he lived.
"'Right here for 40 years,'" Roland recalled Hanson saying. "I said, 'Well, I was right around here a long time ago.'"
After a bit more discussion, Hanson was able to point out the house Roland once called home.
Born in Lynchburg, Va., Roland moved to Bourbonnais when he was 3 years old and spent the next five formative years there as his father, Dennis Roland Sr., served as the head football coach at ONU from 1986 to 1990.
A quarter century later, the memories of Robert Frost School and becoming a Chicago Cubs fan still stick with Roland. And, of course, all the time spent on campus with his dad.
"It's changed a good bit," he said. "But I still recognize a lot of it. It's still a beautiful place."
The family left Bourbonnais when the elder Roland pursued other coaching opportunities. The Bears established training camp at Olivet in 2002, and the younger Roland's career path brought him back to town this week.
A roster spot with the Bears isn't guaranteed. Roland will spend the remainder of training camp and preseason trying to make the 53-man regular season squad. He does have experience on his side having played for the Cincinnati Bengals for the past six seasons.
His father lost a battle with cancer and died in 2008. But the lessons he taught his son remain with Roland Jr. today and provide him with strength as he faces the challenges of his professional and personal life.
"His faith is No. 1," Roland said of his dad. "Then what it means to be a man and everything that comes with it."
The two also share an enduring fascination with football.
"It's all I've ever known," he said. "I grew up playing in the locker room and on the field. I became a player at some point and have been fortunate to hang around the NFL for this long and be successful. Maybe one day, I'll transition into coaching myself."