MOBILE, Ala. -- Myron Rolle smiled at the memory of the small victories he claimed Monday in his return to football. "I remembered how to buckle up my pads," the former Florida State safety said. "I remembered how to buckle up my helmet."
It may not take a Rhodes Scholar to recall those two tasks, but being a Rhodes Scholar certainly doesn't hurt. When we last left Rolle in November 2008, he had just celebrated two victories. He had beaten out some of the nation's best and brightest for one of the world's most prestigious academic awards during the day in Mountain Brook, Ala., and then he had jetted to College Park, Md., to help the Seminoles beat the Terps.
In the 14 months since, Rolle has studied for a master's in anthropology at England's Oxford University. While he lived the academic's dream, Rolle continued to prepare to make his jock dream come true. This week he's in pads again for the first time since the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl as he prepares for the Senior Bowl. Rolle hopes NFL teams will see this week that a year spent immersed in academia has not dulled his competitive edge. In practices and in interviews, NFL coaches have quizzed Rolle about his desire.
"They're looking for my commitment to football," Rolle said. "All of them have asked if football is something that I really want to do. That's pretty much the primary question I've received.
"My response is: I love football. I've been playing since I was 6. It's a part of who I am. It's not out of my system. And I want to be a great player."
Teams also are curious about Rolle's schedule. He still must write a 10,000-word thesis and sit for exams in June. They also probably have asked about his production at Florida State. Though he was one of the Seminoles' top tacklers in all three seasons in Tallahassee, Rolle intercepted just one pass. He looks forward to proving during the next few months that he can multitask on the field as well as he does in the classroom.
"Personally, I'd like to show that I could be a versatile safety, one that could cover man-to-man, one that could cover deep," Rolle said. "Sometimes, my responsibilities at Florida State limited me to one certain coverage or one certain responsibility. Here at the Senior Bowl, we're having opportunities to cover deep third. We're having opportunities to come down by the box and play in run support as well as play in curl/flat and cover three. I'm having an opportunity to show the breadth of my skills."
NFL GMs also may want to interview Rolle if they have any questions about thrifty genotypes. What's a thrifty genotype, you ask? Allow Rolle to explain. "[Native Americans] come from a culture of hunters and gatherers," Rolle said. "They went through seasons of famine. They would develop sort of a pouch or a food storage in their bodies that would allow them to survive. But now that there's more food available, and they have more access to food, this may be the cause for obesity and diabetes in the Native American population."
That's just one of the topics Rolle studied at Oxford, and it seems to have piqued his interest. He's considering it for a thesis topic. "I think I can write 10,000 words on that," he said.
Rolle has prepared for both these moments -- the draft and the thesis -- his entire life. During summers when Rolle was a child, his father, Whitney, would randomly assign research projects to Myron and his brothers. When they weren't playing sports, they hit the library. One week, young Myron and his brothers might study then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Another week, Whitney might ask his sons to produce a report on the workings of the British Parliament. "I never let them do anything they could immediately find the answer for," the elder Rolle said. "The object was for them to go and do research -- to learn something new."
While at Oxford, Rolle learned plenty of new things. That included a new sport. While his brother, McKinley, ran him through football-specific drills, Myron also practiced with the Oxford rugby team. "I didn't actually play in any proper matches, but I ran around with the guys," Rolle said. "They were the best athletes at Oxford."
Rolle played wing, which allowed him to avoid getting clotheslined by any 250-pound hooligans. "I had to learn how to pass the ball backward," Rolle said. "I had to learn the positioning and some of the lingo in rugby." One word Rolle didn't have to learn was scrum; he stayed well clear of rugby's ultra-violent version of basketball's jump ball. "Definitely not," Rolle said. "I was not going there."
Though he was an ocean away, Rolle also kept up with the Seminoles. While some of his fellow students burned the midnight oil with their books on Saturdays, Rolle crouched over his laptop and watched Florida State stumble to a 6-6 finish in the regular season. It hurt to watch his team struggle, and it hurt more to watch legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden be forced out of a job days after a loss to Florida. "It was disappointing to see some of the things we did on that field this year -- especially with [longtime defensive coordinator] Mickey Andrews leaving," Rolle said. "That was sour. And coach Bowden, that was difficult to digest."
During the next few months, Rolle will have to digest NFL schemes while also studying the digestive systems of Native Americans who lived thousands of years ago. He knows it will require some serious juggling, but he wants to convince NFL teams he can handle it. He also knows teams will want to discuss his ultimate goal of becoming a neurosurgeon, but Rolle said he plans to play as much football he can. He'd like to make one dream come true before he chases the next one. "People say I may slip [in the draft] because of taking a year off," Rolle said. "But I look forward to proving I'm still a very good football player."