Inside Rolle's trip from Rhodes interview to Florida State game
Florida State's Myron Rolle was one of 32 to earn a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship
Following his scholarship interview in Alabama, he flew to Maryland for FSU's game
Will the safety now accept the scholarship or will he pursue a future in the NFL?
ABOUT 34,000 FEET OVER ATLANTA -- Experiencing firsthand the spoils of the sale of 10 million Bloomin' Onions could almost make someone feel sorry for those three auto-industry executives who got thrashed in Congress for flying to Washington on their private jets. Aboard a seven-seat limousine with wings loaned by Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham -- with the NCAA's blessing, of course -- Florida State safety Myron Rolle sank into his leather seat. Saturday had begun with a 30-minute shower in Mountain Brook, Ala. It would end with a blowout win five states and one District of Columbia away. In between, Rolle took one giant stride toward a future of limitless opportunity.
But at that moment, traveling 550 mph through a cloudless sky on an IAI 1124 Westwind twin-jet, one of 32 freshly minted Rhodes Scholars needed to rest. Rolle grew quiet. The aspiring neurosurgeon fished his iPod from his pocket, popped in the ear buds, closed his eyes and disappeared into another world. Through the earbuds, Frank Sinatra crooned about a Very Good Year. Ice Cube rapped that "Today was like one of those fly dreams" and later summed up the proceedings nicely. "I've got to say it was a good day," the erstwhile O'Shea Jackson growled in Rolle's ear.
Rolle's nerves kicked in Friday on the drive from Tallahassee, Fla., to Mountain Brook. He had the credentials -- a 3.75 grade point average, starter for a BCS-conference football team, his own stem-cell research project and a program he founded to teach Seminole tribe children how to live healthy lives -- but he also knew he would have only 20 minutes to convince a panel of judges that he deserved one of the world's most prestigious scholarships. Sally Karioth, an FSU nursing professor who has taught Rolle in seven different classes, gave him one piece of advice. Smile.
When Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the De Beers diamond company and former prime minister of South Africa, died in 1902, he bequeathed much of his fortune to England's Oxford University with the command that the school provide scholarships to dynamic students from around the world. Today, the U.S. Rhodes contingent is divided into 16 districts, with two scholars a year from each district. Friday in Mountain Brook, 13 of the nation's most accomplished students gathered for a cocktail party.
Michael Gilmore, the former Florida free safety who stood in Rolle's shoes 15 years ago this week, said the cocktail party felt like pregame warmups. But instead of looking across the 50-yard line and sizing up the opponents' receivers, he found himself comparing his accomplishments against those of violin virtuosos, budding scientists and future military leaders. "It's the same thing there," said Gilmore, a Florida orthopedic surgeon who didn't win a scholarship but did intercept two passes two days later in the 1993 SEC title game against Alabama. "You're sizing them up for what it is exactly you're up against."
Friday night, Rolle's nerves settled as he met his competition and the judges who would decide whether he would earn a two- to three-year scholarship. He mingled. He smiled. He swapped stories. Later, he returned to his hotel room -- and most assuredly, no Hampton Inn has ever hosted so much combined brain power as the Mountain Brook location did Friday -- and went about his usual night-before-game routine. Before he went to bed, he stretched for 30 minutes. Then he sank to his knees and prayed.
Saturday morning, Karioth, who stayed in an adjacent room, put her ear to the wall and realized she had no need to worry for her star pupil. The joyful noise floating through the wall came from Rolle. He was singing.
Rolle begins every gameday with a 30-minute shower. As the Hampton Inn's water meter spun, Rolle closed his eyes and imagined that night's game against Maryland. He pictured himself crushing a receiver over the middle. He pictured himself intercepting quarterback Chris Turner. He even allowed his mind to drift ahead seven days and imagined picking off Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the defending Heisman Trophy winner.
Karioth called and asked if Rolle wanted breakfast. At first he declined, but upon further consideration, he realized he would need fuel for the mental gauntlet he was about to run. In the lobby, he devoured an egg biscuit, a blueberry muffin and a bowl of fruit. Stomach full, he mentally prepped for the noon interview. The night before, he had learned that several of his competitors had practiced for the day with one or two mock interviews. Rolle had done seven, and he had spent more than a year picking the brain of Garrett Johnson, the former star FSU shot-putter who won a Rhodes Scholarship in 2006. On top of that, Rolle's father, Whitney, had sent him a question a day for almost a month.
In the Rolle family, everyone plays a role in any big event. Whitney, who left his native Bahamas in the mid-'80s with wife Beverly and sons Marchant, Marvis and Mordecai -- McKinley and Myron had yet to be born -- to take a job as a vice-president at CitiBank, makes sure of that. Even as Whitney peppered Myron with potential interview questions, the brothers thought of more, and the family huddled to make sure Myron's answers were perfect.
One question in particular inspired much debate. During one mock interview, a professor offered Myron a hypothetical scenario. He was a physician traveling in Africa. One day, on the side of the road, he came upon an HIV-positive man covered in his own blood and in obvious distress. Knowing that Rolle risked contracting the disease, would he stop to help the man?