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West Valley star Alyjouah Rollins’ play overshadows his unique name

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 18, 2019, 7:37 p.m.

He’s used to the question. It’s one he’s heard thousands of times by now.

When your name is uncommon, and Alyjouah is all of that, people are going to ask for help pronouncing it.

Alyjouah Rollins flashes his quick smile.

“It’s unique, for sure,” he says. “I’ve never heard of anyone else with that name or spelled like that.”

It may be a one-of-a-kind spelling, but it’s pronounced much like “Elijah.” And if that doesn’t work, you can always use the nickname his friends and teammates call him: Dook.

The senior two-way football player at West Valley High School is well on his way to making his name well known to everyone, especially opposing coaches trying to find a way to handle him both as a pass catcher and defender.

Against Shadle Park on Friday at Albi Stadium, Rollins caught three touchdown passes to help the Eagles top the Highlanders 28-19. But only one of the receptions was anything close to routine.

Quarterback Matt Allen threw deep into a seam in the Shadle Park defense, where Rollins had one-on-one coverage by cornerback Ryan Schmidt. Both players got their hands on the ball and it popped straight up. Rollins snatched it out of the air and raced for a 68-yard touchdown.

On West Valley’s next offensive play, Allen again threw deep for Rollins, and once again he and Schmidt met with the football simultaneously. This time Schmidt bounced off, and Rollins, suddenly all alone at midfield, raced for a 78-yard touchdown.

Monday, after a team film session, Rollins could only shake his head at his own feats.

“That first one, I don’t know,” he said. “We bobbled the ball and I just was able to make the catch. I don’t know if it’s determination or concentration. I guess you can’t have one without the other.”

Shadle Park coaches wanted Rollins flagged for offensive pass interference on his third touchdown. Rollins was confident after the game that he had not pushed off and was convinced of that fact after seeing it on videotape.

“That was clean,” he said.

“Those were circus catches,” Allen said of Rollins’ back-to-back touchdown catches.

Three years of playing together gives Rollins and Allen a special rapport. It’s clear that each knows what the other is thinking on nearly every play.

In the first half, when the Shadle Park defensive line bedeviled the West Valley offense giving Allen little time to throw, he still could find Rollins in an open space.

“I know when Matt is in trouble and I try to help him out,” Rollins said. “I know what he needs and I do what I can to give him someone to throw to.”

That’s part of being a team leader, and West Valley coach Craig Whitney is quick to point out that Rollins has stepped up his game, both as a player and team leader.

“I was always that kind of guy,” Rollins said. “I just wasn’t that vocal about it. We had senior team leaders the last couple seasons and I deferred to them.

“Coming into this year I knew that I needed to step up. When you’re in the weight room, you can feel the young guys watching you. If you slack off and not work as hard as you can, they’re going to see that. You have to set a good example.”

Weight room work pays off when it comes to making plays like the ones Rollins made Friday night. At 6-feet-2 and 180 pounds, he’s bigger and stronger than most defensive backs. And his 11.75-second speed in the 100-meter dash and part of a state championship 4x400 relay team means he rarely loses a footrace to the end zone.

Rollins’ leadership has helped the Eagles maintain their reputation for playing a tough defense.

Overshadowed by 21 unanswered second-half points Friday night was the fact that West Valley shut out Shadle Park in the second half. And of the Highlanders’ 19 first-half points, one touchdown came from an interception returned for a touchdown and another was the result of a fumble in the red zone.

Rollins’ easy smile disappears when he’s asked about his motivation for his senior season.

The Eagles’ season ended last year in a frustrating loss at Ellensburg in a first-round state playoff game.

“What still eats at me is that we got stopped at the 1-yard line,” he said. “That never happened to us all year. It’s tough to lose a game when you have so many missed opportunities.

“I think that still eats at us all a little. We have something to prove.”

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