Force of His Fury

updated 12/21/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/1992 01:00AM

THE T-SHIRT IS RAGGED AND CUT OFF at the midriff, but the lettering on it is still clear: TRIBUTE TO THE KING: ROBERT NESTA MARLEY. The young University of Miami linebacker dons the same shirt beneath his pads at every game. "I've been wearing it since I started to play football," he says, "and I always think of Anthony and my dad. I dedicate everything I do to my uncle and my dad."

The 5'8", 200-lb. defensive standout for the Miami Hurricanes—who will be playing for college football's national championship on New Year's night in New Orleans—is Rohan Marley, 20. His dad was Bob Marley, the king of reggae. One of Bob Marley's 11 acknowledged children, Rohan didn't inherit his father's voice—his half brother Ziggy, a rising reggae star, got that. But he did get his soccer-playing dad's athleticism, plus his combustive temperament.

"Rohan is not very big," says Miami linebacker coach Tommy Tuberville, "and he's not real, real fast. But he's quick. And he's the hardest hitter on the team." A team, it should be noted, already stocked with two All-America linebackers.

The truth is, in his second year with the 'Canes, Rohan plays with an explosive fury that is rare even in the brutal game of football and may best be explained by who and what he is. "Being Bob Marley's son has been tough on him," observes Tuberville. "He's had to fight his way. Guys on the team kind of pick on him. And he doesn't take it very well," adds Tuberville, noting that Rohan lakes it out, in turn, on Miami's hapless opponents.

Born and reared in Jamaica, Rohan lived mostly with his mother, Janet, in St. Catherine. Bui he also spent time in Kingston with Bob and his wife, Rita. Rohan, who has the same light skin as his dad did, utterly revered him. He even screws up his face and talks out of the side of his mouth like Bob. And like the elder Marley, who as a youth earned the nickname Tuff Gong for his prowess as a street fighter in the Trench Town area of Kingston, Rohan had to deal with his own inner fires. But they didn't flare up until Bob died of brain cancer in 1981.

"My father told us, 'Don't cry when I leave,' " says Rohan, who was 9 at the time. "It was hard at first, but then we understood why he left us. He had done the job he had to do, and it was time for him to go. I took it pretty good."

Maybe so. But within three years, Rohan had gotten to be such a handful—cutting school, running in the streets—that he was packed off to Miami to live with his paternal grandmother, Cedella Booker and her son Anthony. Anthony, his uncle, was just two years older than Rohan and quickly became his best friend. It was Anthony who taught Rohan to play football. A couple of years later, Rohan, a star at Palmetto High School, was named to the Miami Herald all-state team.

Then in 1990, during the summer before his senior year, Rohan's world came apart once more. As the story goes, Anthony began acting strangely after a trip to Jamaica. He complained of headaches and shut himself away listening to "Bob-music." Five days later he emerged dressed completely in white and carrying a 12-gauge shotgun. "All I can see is greed, hate and jealousy," Rohan recalls him saying.

They were Anthony's last words—to the family, at least. He drove to a nearby mall, where he stalked about, waving his shotgun, and finally squeezed off a round at a policeman. An off-duty cop killed him with one shot. Rohan Marley says he dreamed about Anthony every night, and by day poured his grief into furious play on the football field.

Today, it is what he knows best. Even though Bob Marley's estate, once estimated at $30 million, is gone (Rita was recently exonerated in a New York City court of fraud charges connected with her management of it), Rohan is probably fixed for life. He is one of seven people who share in the proceeds from Bob's music—nearly $3 million a year.

Still, his goal these days is to play in the National Football League. "My dad made it his way," he says, "and now it's my turn. I want to follow in his footsteps, not in music but in trying to be on top like he was." He pauses, then laughs. "The only music I make is on the field, leather against leather."

WILLIAM PLUMMER
CINDY DAMPIER in Miami

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