It’s been nearly 14 years since Dr. Myron Rolle — then merely Myron Rolle, All-American safety at Florida State — spent a Saturday morning interviewing for a Rhodes Scholarship before jetting to play for the Seminoles against Maryland that afternoon. He arrived just before halftime and recorded two tackles.
Florida State won that day. Rolle did too, selected for the scholarship, which led him to skip his senior season (and thus push his NFL draft process back a year) so he could study at the University of Oxford in England.
Rolle spent a couple years on NFL rosters (he was drafted in 2010 by Tennessee) before returning to FSU for medical school. He is now a resident neurosurgeon with Harvard at Massachusetts General Hospital.
His time as the ultimate student-athlete was, of course, celebrated. This was an example of what the entire pursuit was supposed to be. The NCAA even waived one of its onerous rules and permitted a private jet to ferry Rolle from the Rhodes Scholar interview to the FSU game.
A lot has changed in college football. Through the years, of course, but even the last week.
The Big Ten now stretches from Maryland to Malibu. No one can say for sure if the Pac 12, which dates back to 1915, will exist in 2024.
Rivalries are ending. Tradition is disposable. Alliances are getting shanked like all of college sports is a prison yard. Trust no one and pursue billions (in media rights) is the industry ethos.
Coaches are making eight figures, top recruits seven. Collectives. NIL. The transfer portal. Head coaches switching jobs while their old teams still had a chance at a playoff berth?
Rolle, now 35, looks on from his demanding job and family life in Boston and is as surprised as everyone else. The ultimate old-school student-athlete, however, is supportive of how money — especially for the players — and the power dynamics that come with it can be a good thing.
At least if the players are focused on more than just making money.
“You have an opportunity to change your life and change your family’s life,” Rolle said.
That means using what the sport now offers — bigger platforms, bigger followings, immediate income that alleviates immediate pressures — to demand the most out of their schools.
If it sounds too high-minded, well, this is Myron Rolle remember. No, he acknowledges, not everyone can become a neurosurgeon (although he believes far more, especially African Americans and women, can) just as not everyone can patrol the FSU secondary.
Still, there is no greater authority on turning football talent into even bigger dreams.
In 2005, Rolle was the No. 1 rated recruit in America per ESPN.com, a bruising, 6-foot-2 safety out of New Jersey. Just about every college program recruited him, only to find some unique demands.
Rolle made it clear that he wanted to win a national championship and hopefully get to the NFL — where two of his cousins, Antrel and Samari, would be All-Pro players.
Just as important however, or perhaps even more important, was winning a Rhodes Scholarship, graduating as a pre-med major and eventually becoming a neurosurgeon.
Inspired by Bill Bradley, who was a Rhodes Scholar out of Princeton before becoming an All-NBA player and US Senator, Rolle decided he wouldn’t compromise.
He would be an elite athlete … and an elite student. He’d pursue medicine … and the NFL. He was upfront about his intentions. He demanded that anyone interested in him be as passionate in his total success as he was.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t I do it all?’” Rolle said. “’Why can’t I balance both and surround myself with people who will help me in the challenge?’”
As such, recruiting visits included touring the weight room and meeting with the head of the medical school or a former Rhodes Scholar on campus. He repeatedly made it clear that his academic load would not be curbed by practice.
And while some thought he’d go to the highest-rated academic school with major college football — say Stanford or Notre Dame — he was purposeful in seeking a program that also had a medical school on campus and a university that would accept all his AP classes so he could graduate quickly. This would be a partnership.
“Everyone was great about it, everyone wanted to support me,” Rolle said.
He chose Florida State and legendary head coach Bobby Bowden. He then attacked each day, with the full blessing and support of the university. It included learning from defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews a simple concept that has guided his life from him ever since.
“Get 2 percent better,” Andrews would implore his players at practice every day.
Not 100 percent better. Not better than the best player. Just 2 percent. Day after day.
“Just trying to get 2 percent better every day is a real, tangible goal,” Rolle said. “It’s small increments of growth. I put this mindset to my life and it’s how I’ve overcome the challenges I’ve faced.”
He even released a book this year on the system — “The 2% Way” — which details how the son of immigrants could rise so high and so fast while blasting through barriers and doubts brought on by his background, his race and even his athletic ability.
Society says Rolle isn’t supposed to be who he is. Even to this day he says he walks into a patient’s room and it’s assumed he’s a food service worker or an orderly, not the skilled doctor in charge.
That was always true though. He willed it to happen anyway.
“I hope it will inspire everyone, especially young people,” Rolle said. “Nothing is preordained.”
And that is what he hopes this modern era of college football can do for the players, namely allow them to get the most they can out of the sport on and off the field.
Players have more power now, Rolle said. Money brings that; both the billions the schools need them to earn, and the money they can earn from themselves. Everything is bigger. The leagues. The spotlight. The platform.
Players can actively partner with businesses and boosters, they can be mini corporations, not just a name on the depth chart. They can learn from alumni. They can set up companies or set aside future graduate school costs.
The ability to promote themselves even means less traditional paths are increasingly viable.
He points to Travis Hunter, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022, who signed with HBCU Jackson State, which doesn’t even play at the highest level of college football. This is a new day, so the old way isn’t always the best way.
“Choose an institution that believes in you and will help your growth and maturity,” Rolle said. “You have the ability to promote yourself now, so NFL teams will come find you.”
Namely, take the developments that have come to the industry and make them work for you. These are powerful leagues and institutions. Seize that power, he says. It’s more available than ever.
“Sometimes as a player, when you get to your school and you feel you are indebted to the institution,” Rolle said. “They found you and pulled you out and put you on a campus. You feel you are there for them.
“To me, it was just confidence,” he continued. “I fully felt like I belonged and I demanded that from the start and went where they agreed. These institutions have a machinery to move you where you need to be. If you stick in a bubble of just football or basketball, you miss out on it.”
So as college sports seemingly spins off its axis, or at least progresses at a rate more rapid than anyone could have expected, one its most famous examples of the student-athlete ideal sees not a regression, but a push forward.
“Opportunity,” Rolle calls it.
It’s there for the taking, now more than ever.