By Chris Mahr
As scores of college football players anxiously await their fates between now and next week’s three-day NFL draft, former Florida State safety Myron Rolle bides his time in anticipation of something else: Whether or not he is accepted to medical school.
“Within 10 days or so I should hear back from a few,” Rolle said on Monday over the phone from the Philadelphia offices of a managed care organization, AmeriHealth Caritas, where he is four weeks into an administrative fellowship. “I don’t know where I’ll be, but I know I’m looking for schools with good neurosurgery programs in places where I want to live.”
Now 26, Rolle would be lying if he said he expected that this would be the path his life would take. ESPN’s top prospect in the Class of 2006 out of The Hun School in Princeton, NJ, Rolle had initially planned to spend a couple years in Tallahassee, another decade or so playing in the NFL and then embark on a career devoted to medicine and philanthropy.
Instead, he started on his post-football life after just two-plus NFL seasons, largely because Rolle opted for a Rhodes Scholarship instead of the 2009 NFL Draft. And from the sounds of it, he couldn’t be happier.
Rolle’s embrace of life outside of football always set him apart, both as a highly touted high school prospect and with the Seminoles. His embrace of academics and philanthropy — he earned his FSU bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science in just 2 ½ years with a 3.75 GPA and long spoke about opening a medical clinic in his parents’ native Bahamas — was a huge part of his college experience.
It’s worth noting, however, that Rolle put in just as much work on the gridiron. He was a First Team Freshman All-American in 2006 and earned both Third Team All-America and Second Team All-ACC honors in 2008, his final season in Tallahassee. And NFL scouts definitely took notice.
“My junior season was really strong,” Rolle said. “I was told that I would go in the second round. Then I called my cousin Samari (a former Seminoles cornerback and 12-year NFL veteran) and asked him what he was feeling. His scout on the Ravens told him that I was a second-rounder, too.”
What Rolle hadn’t anticipated was having to choose between two childhood dreams: The NFL and a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for postgraduate studies at Oxford University in England.
It shocked many when Rolle delayed the former in favor of the latter by passing on the 2009 draft to study at Oxford.
“When I was in high school, I used to play basketball at Jadwin Gym on Princeton’s campus,” Rolle said. “And I remember seeing a trophy case devoted to Bill Bradley. I saw that he was a Rhodes Scholar and the epitome of a student athlete. He became my role model in a way.”
During the year he spent at Oxford earning a Master’s of Science in medical anthropology, Rolle stayed in shape with pre-dawn morning workouts at a local rugby weight room. But when he returned stateside, NFL teams’ opinion of Rolle had changed. And for the first time, he experienced tinges of “remorse and regret” at choosing Oxford over his football career.
“For most of them it was, ‘We want guys who are 100% committed, who put their body and their minds on the line to make that one play,’ ” Rolle recalled. “Because I expressed my interest in philanthropy and medicine, it made some of the NFL teams apprehensive in investing money in me.
“My athletic career did take a little bit of a hit by going to Oxford. I got that label of not being seriously committed like some other players. People around the league were saying, ‘We like guys that have no other option.’… It can make sense if you look at it from a narrow perspective, but if you look at it from my perspective, I’ve shown commitment my whole life. Why can’t I show commitment to being a great NFL player?”
The Titans took a flyer on Rolle, selecting him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. The progress he made in his first year with Tennessee — “I thought I was making strides and getting better with each snap, picking up things I didn’t pick up before,” he said — took a hit with the departure of head coach Jeff Fisher and the 2011 lockout putting a halt to OTAs.
Rolle was released prior to the start of the 2011 season. The Steelers signed him to a reserve/future contract the next offseason, only to release Rolle at the tail end of the 2012 preseason. Afterward, it took Rolle three weeks of soul-searching to realize that it was for the best that his football-playing career was done at age 25.
“I talked to my family, brothers and pastors asking them what they thought,” he said. “I still received interest from a few teams, and it didn’t have to be over. Then I said to myself, ‘I can knock my head against the wall for 8-9 years or move on to medicine.’ I was leaving the game with no concussions and dexterity in both my hands, where I could be a neurosurgeon one day.
“The NFL experience was amazing. I had a chance to play alongside some of the best athletes in the world. Only two other people can say that they were a Rhodes Scholar and an NFL player (Pat Haden and Byron White). I look back and say, ‘I got to the league, I got drafted.’ ”
Almost three years to the day after nervously wondering whether any of the 32 NFL teams were still interested in him, Rolle is experiencing similar nerves in anticipation of being accepted by the medical school programs he applied to. (He remained mum on which schools are in the mix but said that he would start in the summer if he is accepted to one.)
If Rolle is accepted, whichever school takes him on as a medical student will be getting an accomplished individual. Among the initiatives he has taken on through his eponymous foundation — which he founded in 2009 — are the Myron Rolle Wellness and Leadership Academy (hosts 100 foster children in Florida ages 12–14), the Rhodes to Success academic workshop (also for Florida foster care children), Our Way to Health Program (aimed at fighting diabetes and obesity in Native American children) and the upcoming Myron L. Rolle Medical Clinic and Sports Complex.
Combined with his academic achievements at both FSU and Oxford, it’s more than enough to make a medical school admissions officer sit up and take notice.
Myron Rolle the football player is in the past. Yet Myron Rolle the person — the one who set out to leave his imprint on the world — is still very much here and Myron Rolle the neurosurgeon is to come.
“I loved [football] for my whole life,” he said. “But maybe this reach that I have now is even greater.”
Bottom photo: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports