The first wave to come, in the 1880s, did the lowest kind of labor, hauling dirt and lumber, digging holes, plastering walls, hammering. No task was too hard. They could walk for miles, their skin cured for generations by saltwater and sun, and if cancers bubbled up on their forearms later maybe they would cut them off, maybe not. Their eyes blazed with a disconcerting fire. They helped build the Peacock Inn, the first hotel on the South Florida mainland, then the village of Coconut Grove that went up around it. In the 1940s a new wave of them rushed in under a U.S.-Bahamas agreement that is still known in the islands as the Contract -- migrants ranging up the coast of Florida to pick beans, okra, mangoes and avocados, to ruin their backs and suffer the scars from cutting cane.
Tallahassee, Feb. 4, 2006:Myron Rolle, a defensive back from New Jersey who was rated the No. 1 recruit in the nation by ESPN.com, said that he had received a text message from Florida governor Jeb Bush on his recruiting trip to Florida State in November. "Myron Rolle is a fantastic scholar-athlete from New Jersey [who] was recruited by FSU," Bush told a reporter. "He's going to be a great football player. And more importantly, he's probably going to be a Rhodes scholar. He wants to go to FSU medical school. He's a spectacular young man."
Like every other immigrant clan, they were supposed to give up their past as they dug a foothold in the new country, become just another tile in the vast American mosaic. But they kept coming from Nassau, Georgetown, Bimini -- some in fishing boats crunching aground in midnight coves, some crammed by the dozens into the stripped cabins of old warplanes -- and settling in Coconut Grove, or across Miami in the stretch of Overtown known as Goodbread Alley. Mothers washed clothes for the rich white folk in their huge houses on Miami Beach. Fathers mowed the lawns, trimming edges with machetes as they inched around the acreage on their knees.
Miami, July 20, 2007:The nation's top-ranked high school football team, Miami Northwestern, introduced Billy Rolle as its new coach Friday morning.
Fire a rock in any direction in the Bahamas today and you'll likely hit a Rolle. And in the U.S. the name snaked north like kudzu; family members say there are Rolles in 49 of the 50 states, more than two thousand of them, many cropping up over the last 30 years in sports reports. Rolles have played college football (Gary, Omar, Arpedge), college basketball (Hewitt), minor league baseball (Randy), college golf (Georgette). Sasha ran track at Arkansas, Charlton hurdles and long-jumps at Tennessee, Henry coaches track at Auburn, Deandrea puts the shot and throws the discus and Leneice runs at Missouri State, Magnum played basketball at LSU and, after transferring, will suit up next year at Louisiana Tech. In September, Ahsha, 22, came out of nowhere to win two rounds in the women's draw at the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 23, 2007:Freshman Brian Rolle is getting quite the reputation as the hardest hitter on the Ohio State roster. On a day when the Buckeyes dealt a lot of punishment -- "I love those vicious collisions," said coach Jim Tressel -- Rolle was the chief perpetrator with several jarring tackles on special teams.
Even if they've never met, Rolles recognize each other. First there's what family members call the Rolle nose, flatter and wider than most; grandfathers have been known to declare when they see a newborn, "You got a Rolle there." Then there's the attitude, laid-back on the surface but at the core relentless, given to extremes. When Rolles are good? They're brainiacs like Myron, starting for the Seminoles as a true freshman and planning to graduate premed in 21/2 years; or leaders like Billy, called in to rescue a powerhouse that had nearly been abolished amid a sex scandal and mass firings. "But I don't want you to think we're all saints," says Whitney Rolle, Myron's father. "There's good stories and bad stories. The people named Rolle all have a fierce competitiveness in them. There aren't any half steps. When they're bad? They're really bad."
Cincinnati, Nov. 18, 2007:Arizona's Antrel Rolle scored on interception returns of 55 and 54 yards on Sunday -- and had another touchdown on an interception return wiped out by penalty -- in a 35-27 victory over the Bengals that got the Cardinals back to .500 and kept them in the NFC race.
San Diego, Nov. 26, 2007:Despite the Ravens' 32-14 loss to the Chargers, cornerback Samari Rolle took satisfaction in showing he could play with epilepsy. Rolle, who disclosed last week that he has the neurological condition, played his first game since suffering a major seizure on Nov. 2. "I thought he played great," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "I have huge admiration for Samari Rolle and his passion for [continuing] to play."
No one can draw up a definitive family tree. None of the most famous Rolles are closely related, but that doesn't matter. They believe they are cousins, however distant, and all point to the same settlement on Exuma (pop. 3,600) as the place where a great-great-grandparent was born. But that common link would mean little without its unique shine; Rolle isn't like any other slave name. It's charged by a singular moment in family lore, an enlightened act so rare for a slave owner that it instilled a bedrock self-belief still seen in Rolles 170 years later. "They all have that swagger," says Marcus Forston, the Miami Northwestern High defensive tackle who plays for Billy and has met Myron, Antrel and Samari. "They all have something in their hearts -- that confidence. Yeah: swagger."
Still, how do you calculate the odds that two villages -- not New York or Los Angeles but Rolleville and Rolle Town -- would produce one of the leading names in American sports? How do you resist asking what, exactly, made the Rolles so special?
We are coming to the point where my father took me as a little boy," says Kermit Rolle, after the car, rolling along Queen's Highway on Exuma, has passed Jacob Rolle's Christian Academy, Rolle's Chat and Chew restaurant and nurse Lydia King Rolle's clinic and jounced through two bumpy detours around floods caused by Tropical Storm Noel. Sunlight blasts through the windshield. He motions the driver to slow. Kermit is 72 years old, but for a moment he is young again. The turquoise sea flashes through the trees. To understand anything about the Rolles, you must begin right here.
Kermit was nine or 10 that day. His father took him to this spot in Steventon to retrace the route of a slave named Pompey, one of hundreds working five settlements owned by an Englishman, Lord John Rolle. In 1829 the physically imposing Pompey led a protest against a plan to move a group of Rolle's slaves from Exuma to another island in the Bahamas. Pompey and others seized a boat and took it to Nassau to plead their case with the colonial governor. They were caught and whipped, after which Pompey escaped and famously ran five miles to Rolleville to warn other slaves that British soldiers were coming to seize them. The slaves "put hell" on the soldiers, Kermit says, laughing. "Pompey knocked them down left, right and center."
Pompey's rebellion earned him a place in history; he is credited with sparking the Bahamian antislavery movement. For the Rolles, who in the custom of the day took the name of their owner, Pompey is an icon of resistance: He didn't take servitude passively; he stood up and fought. A document from the time tells how soldiers were constantly being called out to quell the Rolle plantation workers. "They were always troublesome," says Gail Saunders, a historian and former director of the Bahamas' national archives. "They wanted their freedom."
"Maybe that's how we get some of the strong players in the U.S. today," Kermit says. "My father always said of someone who's big and strong and healthy and runs fast: 'That could be one of Pompey's.' " Kermit, a restaurateur and businessman, is one of Rolleville's most prominent figures, a living repository of history. His great-grandmother, the daughter of a slave, told him that Lord John's overseers whipped any slave they caught trying to read and that some slaves risked their skins to secretly teach each other the alphabet.
During that walk with his dad on Pompey's route, Kermit also learned about the source of the Rolles' distinctive pride: Lord John's benevolent deed. Legend has it that, instead of selling off his land after the British fully ended slavery in the Bahamas in 1838, John Rolle willed the 5,000 acres in perpetuity to his freed slaves. Not one clod of that prime Caribbean waterfront land could be bought or sold. It could only be handed down to other Rolles.
This alone, Kermit says, makes Rolles different from other Bahamian blacks, not to mention their counterparts in the U.S. Kermit worked for 14 years in the postwar U.S., shuttling in and out of the Bahamas on the Contract, and never understood the acceptance of second-class citizenship by many African-Americans. "John, Lord Rolle, was a perfect man," Kermit says. "That's why we ask God to bless him: His mind was so clear that after emancipation, all the lands he had he willed back to his people. That made us the most happiest people, because he treated us as human beings. He set you up in such a way that you can be proud, and there's still that proudness. The other slave owners? They just turned those people loose. [The freed slaves] didn't know where to go. They don't know where they are. But my father showed me the boundaries -- and within those boundaries, the land belonged to our people."
A vast simplification? Perhaps. But Kermit is right about the psychological heft a prize such as Lord Rolle's can provide. In a recent essay, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. cited lack of property as a key reason for the growing wealth gap between poor and middle-class African-Americans. Studying 20 successful African-Americans, Gates found that 15 are descended from families that obtained property before 1920. By then, the Rolles on Exuma had been in possession of their land for more than 80 years. "People who own property feel a sense of ownership in their future and their society," Gates wrote. "They study, save, work, strive and vote. And people trapped in a culture of tenancy do not."
In the Rolles' case, the slave owner's gesture imbued its recipients with a sense of grace. "I heard that story about Lord John Rolle," says Florida State's Myron Rolle, who was born and raised in the U.S. "Something like that just makes life more fulfilling. It makes you feel more connected with who you are, knowing where you came from and the people who came before you."
And because of that past, Samari Rolle says, "I don't view myself as just an average black man. I think we're here to do more."
Yet the story itself is about as solid as sand. Asked about Lord John's magnanimous handover, Saunders, the historian, says flatly, "He didn't. They squatted on the land. If you look at Lord Rolle's will, he just said [the land] should be sold. The Rolle slaves gained possession by living on the land and farming it. That's just a legend that he gave it to them. We've got a copy of the will."
When questions about the will arise, Kermit pauses, then says, "No one has seen the deed as such, but I'm sure each heir was given a plot." Such a willful disregard of the facts seems odd at first. Kermit directs the car to the farthest reach of Rolleville, to a place called Back Landing. He tells of how, some 20 years ago, he passed a pile of trash outside a government office undergoing renovation and noticed a large engraving of Lord John among the refuse. He took it, cleaned it and displayed it on the wall in his hilltop tavern. Today the portrait hangs in the national archives.
Kermit shows off his spacious house high on the five acres that have been in his family for generations. He points to the spit of land where his dock sways in the water. There, he says -- that's where slaves landed on Exuma in the late 1700s. It's at this moment that his stubbornness about John Rolle's will begins to make sense. The legend tidies up a great evil, yes, and even sanctifies the lord's seemingly banal soul. But the legend also enabled the freed Rolles to define themselves: They weren't mere squatters; they were different. They were chosen.
"My father took me here and showed where he was told they came in; that gave me the initiative to build my house right here," Kermit says. "This is why I'm so appreciative of John, Lord Rolle, and what he did as a slave owner. He left us, his people, so we could walk with our heads up high."
On Sept. 30, about five minutes before halftime of the Steelers-Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona cornerback Antrel Rolle was trotting off the field when he noticed his uniform was speckled with blood. Feeling no pain, he searched his body for a wound until he noticed spots on the glove on his left hand. He yanked off the glove, and blood poured out so thickly that for an instant Antrel thought his forefinger was gone. Then he saw that it was sliced open and dislocated; the bone had popped through the flesh. "It was pointing up," Antrel says. "My finger was pretty much hanging, you know?"
In the locker room team medical personnel manipulated the finger back into place, twice stuck a six-inch-long hypodermic needle into the web between Antrel's fore- and middle fingers for the pain and then stitched it up as Rolle gritted his teeth. The stitches ripped open sometime during the second half. Antrel missed only one defensive series. "Now that's a Rolle thing," says his father, Al, 57. "Right there."
But few took note, because Antrel had contributed only two tackles and one pass deflection in the 21-14 Cardinals win and seemed on track to become just another NFL bust. The No. 8 pick in the 2005 draft, he missed most of his rookie season with injuries. He started all 16 games last year but, dogged by concerns about his lack of speed, lost his job to Eric Green just before the '07 season began. The demotion stung, but Rolle didn't let on. In 1998 he had watched his dad, the obvious choice for the open position of police chief of Homestead, Fla., ride out talk of a nationwide search with a steely smile. Finally, after members of every segment of the community -- whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics -- rallied to his side, he got the job. Antrel learned how to act like a professional. "We always say a Rolle can never be denied," he says. "All our lives we've heard people say, 'You're never going to last' or 'You're too slow,' but we use that as our fire. We prove them wrong every time."
Antrel's grandfather came over on the Contract with a sixth-grade education, sharecropped and stayed. He worked three menial jobs, raised nine kids and has been married to the same woman for 63 years. Al and his brothers started working with their dad when they were six years old, Friday afternoons and all day on Saturdays. "And he would not let us miss a day of school," Al says. "That's why I come to work every day; this is my 28th year, and I've missed three days. You'd stay home from school? He'd double back from work, and my mom would hide us in the closet. A couple of times he caught me at home, and he made me go. I walked from Homestead to Goulds, nine miles. When I got there, school was out. I turned around and thumbed back home, but made sure I had reported in. Man, he was tough."
Drafted by the Army, Al later completed his college degree. Together with his wife of 27 years, Armelia, a longtime career counselor at Homestead High, he made education the family priority. Two of his sons became police officers like Al, a daughter became a counselor like mom. Antrel missed one day of school in 12 years and finished high school with a 3.8 GPA. He graduated from Miami with honors and a 3.3. Al rose through the police ranks over 18 years and became the first black captain, then major, then chief in Homestead history. "Homestead was a pretty redneck racist town," Al says. "I never thought I'd be a police officer here, never mind the chief."
Antrel got into serious trouble once. In July 2004, just before his senior year at Miami, he was suspended by the team after being charged with battery of a Miami police officer and resisting arrest. Antrel says he was approached for blocking traffic, but the police complaint states that he was on the street fighting with a group of people. Antrel, who denies there was a fight, says the police tried to pull him from his car. He acknowledges that he shook off the officer's hand from his arm but says he did not hit him; two weeks later the assistant state attorney called the contact between the two men "merely incidental" and did not file the charges. Al backed Antrel start to finish, but until the end, Antrel says, "I couldn't sleep at night because I didn't want anybody looking at me differently. My name carries a lot."
It was an ordeal to which he never should have been subjected, he says -- just like his benching this fall. Yet all season Antrel has done whatever the Cardinals have asked. Limited mostly to nickel packages, he quietly carried on as the team's utility defender, filling in at five positions, including linebacker, against Tampa Bay on Nov. 4, making 10 tackles and playing on special teams too. Coach Ken Whisenhunt praised him for his attitude and progress. Three days before Arizona's Nov. 18 game at Cincinnati, Green rolled his ankle, and Rolle seemed certain to get his old job back. But by game time Green was in the lineup again.
"For whatever reason I got pulled," Antrel says about losing his starting job in the preseason. "I don't know the reason, but it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is how I handle the adversity. I've never once gotten loud with my coaches. I've never once shown attitude. I've never said, Forget this year. The only thing I've done is work my ass off. I do that to let them know: I'm going to show you you made a mistake."
That Sunday, in a 35-27 Cardinals victory, Antrel showed them all. He came off the bench to intercept two Carson Palmer passes and return them 55 and 54 yards for touchdowns, finishing off the second with a cartwheel and a backflip. Then, on one of the game's last plays, he made his third pick of the day and ran 71 yards into the end zone before a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct against teammate Antonio Smith nullified the touchdown. No matter: This was the kind of day that can recharge a career.
Or two. High in a luxury box at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Samari Rolle watched the Arizona highlights while his own team was losing again on the field below. For two months, the 31-year-old Ravens cornerback had kept secret the headaches, blackouts and epileptic seizures that had terrified him and his family and pushed him to the brink of retirement. This was the sixth game he had missed since receiving a diagnosis of epilepsy in September and beginning the hit-or-miss process of calibrating his treatment. After his third major convulsion, on Nov. 2, Samari had awakened several days in a row feeling his tongue thick and raw and wondering if he was through with football. But then he began feeling better. Then he watched Antrel, who had idolized him as a kid, break out big against the Bengals, and Samari said, "Now I've got to come back."
After the Cincinnati game Antrel spoke of redemption and credited his "character" for keeping him strong. He didn't have to say where that character came from. "What I'm holding right now in my hand is a plaque," he said over the phone. "It's a proclamation from 2006, I believe: chief alexander rolle day. They gave him his own day in Homestead. I took this plaque from home without him even knowing because it means so much to me that one man can make such a difference. And it just happens that that man is the man who raised me."
Forty miles north of Homestead, Chill Will quietly glides past his screaming and ranting assistants, fields questions from anxious parents and roams the troubled halls of Miami Northwestern High as if he hasn't a care in the world. "How do I look?" coach Billy Rolle asks one of the female office staffers with a flirty chuckle. It's a rhetorical question. Rolle always looks calm and cool, hence the nickname, and nothing in this supercharged universe seems strong enough to shake him. This week's game? The pressure to win Northwestern's first national championship? The tightrope he walks for all the families, players and administrators who almost saw the football program shut down last summer? The new, last-chance academic and behavioral standards he must enforce on 60 testosterone-fueled, pigskin-mad teenagers?
"If you look at me, you can tell I'm carrying that weight," says Northwestern's first-year principal, Charles Hankerson. "You look at him? He just smiles."
A year ago the school and its football program were a shambles. On Dec. 7, 2006, as the Bulls prepared to play for the Florida Class 6A title, star running back Antwain Easterling, then 18, was arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious battery on a minor after he admitted to having had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl in a school bathroom three months earlier. Rather than being expelled, suspended or even benched, Easterling was allowed to suit up two days after his arrest and ran for 157 yards and a touchdown to lead Northwestern to its third 6A championship -- and spark outrage throughout the state. (Easterling, now a freshman at Southern Mississippi, entered a pretrial diversion program, and if he fulfills its requirements the charge against him will be dropped.) Allegations that then principal Dwight Bernard hadn't reported Easterling's crime to the police despite having known about it resulted in Bernard's indictment on two counts of official misconduct (he pled not guilty, and the trial is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2008), the reassigning of 21 Northwestern administrators and staffers, including football coach Roland Smith and several of his assistants, and a threat by Miami-Dade County public schools superintendent Rudy Crew to cancel the Bulls' 2007 season. The Northwestern team, says Hankerson, "was totally broken."
The school, in Miami's predominantly black, predominantly poor neighborhood of Liberty City, was little better. Northwestern had been assessed a D or F in state measures of academic progress for six years straight, and Hankerson arrived in April planning a complete overhaul. A few months passed before Crew allowed the football season to go forward, but only after demanding that all players and their parents sign a contract promising to meet standards such as a minimum 2.5 GPA, and a limited number of absences. As for the new coach, Hankerson had one logical choice. Billy Rolle knew Northwestern, having served as an assistant on its first title team in 1995 and then leading the Bulls to their second championship in '98. He was the only coach in Miami-Dade County to have won state titles at two schools. But most important, the 46-year-old Rolle had the temperament and background necessary to help Hankerson change the school's dangerously skewed culture.
Like many of the more successful Rolles, Billy was raised in a home built upon a strong marriage. His parents, Billy Sr. and Frankie, were so revered as educators in Coconut Grove that one public building is named for him and two for her. The couple, who were together for 47 years until Billy Sr.'s death in 1998, set aside a room in their home for students with nowhere else to go. People tell Billy that he's just like his dad, "but I'm not even close," he says. "He pretty much served as father for a lot of young men."
Billy's grandfather, Obediah, came from Rolle Town and helped build the Grove, and his grandmother became part of the Bahamian neighborhood there that, in the classic immigrant way, could be as smothering as it was supportive. "It was all about family," Billy says. "Everybody was kin in the Grove, so it was like, 'Hey, you can't date this girl; she may be your cousin.' My dad's mother lived in the house right back of us. You know how a wife wants you to break away from your mother? My mom used to tell me, 'I could never pull [your father] away from the family.' A few times my mom tried to get my dad to move to Jacksonville. But the Grove was just home for him. It's deep. I find it special myself."
Billy figured he'd be a teacher, too. He took up the profession in the 1980s, after a brief playing career in the USFL and the Canadian Football League, but ended up as a full-time coach. His first stint at Northwestern ended in 2000, when he decided he needed to work closer to his home in Richmond Heights and spend more time with his wife, Loretta, and two young children. But once it became clear last July that the Bulls' senior-heavy team would be allowed to play the 2007 season, alums started calling, and Billy found a return to Northwestern impossible to resist. The Bulls still run Smith's hyperactive spread offense but with a Rolle flair: trick plays like passing to Forston, a defensive tackle turned tight end, for a two-point conversion; in-your-face tactics like purposely going offside to run down the clock. Billy's defense almost rebelled against that one, but he just smiled as time ran out. "I know why they call him Chill Will," Forston says. "This guy don't talk too much, but he's observed so much on the field that when he does talk, everything sounds right. You think, Man, Coach, you're smart."
Of course, beating all comers but one by double digits to go 13-0 will make anyone look like a genius. And with Division I scholarships cascading on his players like autumn leaves, Billy doesn't sound a bit crazy when he says this team is the most talented he's ever seen. The Bulls have cruised since flying into Texas and snapping then-No. 1 Southlake Carroll's 49-game winning streak on Sept. 15, but Hankerson says looks are deceiving. Holding the line on grades and behavior has gotten harder as the wins have piled up. From personally chiding one receiver for an over-the-top touchdown celebration to insisting on Saturday-morning tutoring sessions, the principal has done things over which other coaches would go to war. But at every step, Billy Rolle has said, "O.K., that's what you want." No player has fallen short of the 2.5 conduct grade standard.
"It appears from the outside that it's easy to take over a team that's this good," Hankerson says. "But given everything that surrounds this team and the microscope we've been under since Aug. 1, it takes a very, very special person. The talent was still here, yes, but to pick the talent up, to refocus it, to make it understand there's a new system, culture, way of thinking? That's been all Billy."
Well, truth be told, it has been Billy and that whole Rolle thing. Chill Will didn't spring out of nowhere. He's part of a network, a continuum born of blood and sweat; he and Antrel and Samari and their fathers have all talked and found some old names in common and decided, yes, somewhere along the line they're family.
A few weeks ago Billy was lying on his couch on a Saturday afternoon, exhausted after his team's 53-10 first-round playoff rampage over his alma mater, Coral Gables, the night before. "I like our chances," he rasped into the phone about the possibility of Northwestern's winning out. (Last Friday night the Bulls beat South Dade 55-14 to advance to the state 6A semifinals.) As he spoke, you could hear a television in the background. Billy kept flipping between two football games: Ohio State-Michigan, where he could watch the Buckeyes' Brian Rolle knock people down left, right and center, and Florida State-Maryland, where Billy could see Myron Rolle put hell on the Terps' receivers. "There he is now," Billy said as Myron crossed the screen. Then he clicked to Ohio State. "I'm looking at both of them."
Myron and Brian would win that day, and Antrel's huge performance against Cincinnati 24 hours later would make for a sweet trifecta: high school, college and NFL all getting a good taste of the island.
Anation, like a tree, does not thrive well till it is engraffed with a foreign stock.-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1823
Beverly Rolle had one thought when it came to the birth of her fifth son, and nothing could change it: He would be an American. He would grow up in this country and get all the benefits, opportunities and, especially, educational options that U.S. citizenship could provide. Her husband, Whitney, wasn't so driven; they had a good life in Nassau, didn't they? But at some point when Whitney was in college in Minnesota or grad school in Florida or living in New Jersey while he worked at Citibank in New York City in the early '80s, the hook was set. "Oh, yeah," Whitney says with a laugh. "She thinks she's from New Jersey!"
Their three oldest boys had been born in the Bahamas but had some schooling in the U.S. The fourth was born in Ridgewood, N.J., but returned with the family to the Bahamas. Midway into her pregnancy with the fifth, in 1986, Beverly left Whitney in Nassau, sent the two older boys to Whitney's sister's home in New Jersey, packed up the two youngest and flew to stay with friends in Houston. She didn't budge for four months, not until Myron arrived kicking and squalling deep in the heart of Texas. The family has lived in Galloway, N.J., since 1987. "My mother really runs the family, and she knew she wanted to be here," Myron says. "She told me: There's so much you can do if you use the system. The education is great. If you're put in the right situation, you can really become successful."
Myron's family, in fact, is a success story suitable for an exhibit at Ellis Island. Whitney's father worked the Contract up and down the East Coast but always shuttled home to Exuma and then Nassau, working as a mason until he died. Whitney and Beverly married in 1971 and sealed the generational jump from blue-collar to white, pushing education on their boys as if it were oxygen: In order, Marchant became an investment banker in Pennsylvania, Marvis a lawyer in New Jersey, Mordecai a U.S. Army medic; McKinley is getting his graduate degree in sports management at Florida State. That's not so rare a scorecard for immigrant couples out of the West Indies.
"A foreign person who comes here will work harder because there's so many opportunities that people just ignore," says Whitney, 57, now a senior systems engineer with a New Jersey financial services company. "Myron was telling me the other day about some award in Florida -- if you get a certain grade point average, you can get a college scholarship. If I knew that, I'd have lived in Florida a long time ago. And in the meantime, people are coming home with a C average? If you're getting a C, something is wrong with you."
But by any standard, Myron has always been a young man in a hurry. One of the nation's top prep prospects, he received 57 scholarship offers as a senior at The Hun School in Princeton, N.J., and announced his decision live, out of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, on ESPN2. It wasn't the toughest decision; Florida State had a secret weapon. "Samari was Myron's hero," said Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden.
Myron first phoned Samari in 2004, a high school junior cold-calling an All-Pro NFL vet, asking him which Rolle relatives they had in common. They're still trying to figure that out. But Samari had been keeping tabs on Myron, and he praised Myron more for his work in the classroom than for his achievements on the football field. Soon they were talking three times a week, about their strong faith, tight families, tough dads, educational priorities -- the whole Bahamian ethos. Samari had grown up in Miami Beach, the son of two teachers, Harry and Grace, married 32 years now. Upset about his scarce playing time as a junior at Miami Beach High, Samari had begged his father to let him transfer to Miami Northwestern, where Billy Rolle was the defensive coordinator, for his senior year. Harry had told him, No. You're a Rolle. You're going to tough it out, move to quarterback and be named athlete of the year.
"Season comes along, everything went according to plan," Samari says. "Coach Bowden won his national championship Jan. 1, 1994, and came to my house on Jan. 2 at 10 a.m. My dad said, 'I told you you were a Rolle.' "
Common bloodline or no, it was eerie for Myron to hear something so, well, familiar. "We haven't found that we're cousins," he says, "but I feel we're so close I could call him my cousin. We'll text-message, call. I spend time with his kids, his wife. He's somebody I can ask for any advice: how to cover a three-yard slant or how to talk to a girl. He's pretty much a mentor."
After graduating from high school a semester early, in January 2006, Myron enrolled at FSU in exercise science with plans to graduate by the end of summer 2008. He expects to play one more year of college ball -- while finishing off a graduate degree in public administration -- and then six or seven years in the NFL before turning to fulfill his real ambition: becoming a neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, after Myron broke out big as a roving safety four games into his freshman season, his tackles and interceptions declined this fall, but the FSU coaches don't doubt him. "I can say this: As a sophomore he's a lot further along than Samari was," says Bowden.
And to hear Samari tell it, Myron may always be ahead of him. "He's the perfect kid," says the Ravens cornerback, now the father of three. "Whenever I see Myron, what my wife once said runs through my head: 'That's what I want my son to be.' "
With Myron's 3.8 GPA and physical gifts, it's tempting to see him as the apotheosis of Rolle family values. Yes, as Antrel says, "it has to continue. He's not going to be the last Rolle who's going to make it." For most Rolles born in the U.S., the Bahamas is a vacation spot. Billy hasn't been there since 1980. Samari has gone at least a dozen times, and Antrel plans to make his first trip to Exuma when this football season ends. Myron, though, is connected to the islands in a way that even his brothers and parents aren't. He's been going there since he was a baby, and something in the spirit of the place speaks to him in a way the U.S. doesn't. His great athletic ambition isn't the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It's the Wall of Fame at Nassau's international airport. His great hope is to develop his skills as a neurosurgeon and take them back to the Bahamas someday and open a free clinic.
"I was born in the United States, and I'm a citizen, and I love this country," Myron says, "but the Bahamas is who I am. Every time I go back, I feel so much support and so much love: my cousins, my aunties, my uncles. I see that the facilities there are not up to the standards of the U.S. Not enough attention is paid to medicine, to practitioners and facilities; there's often overcrowding in hospitals.
"I'm not going to lie. I've been blessed. My family's provided for me. But I feel that with the talents God has given me and the things I've been able to accomplish, I could do more. I feel I can influence society. In Princeton you've got a lot of kids who are spoiled because they have everything given to them, and then you go to the Bahamas where people are just happy to be living, to have clothes on their back. That's why I'll continue to work hard in the classroom and on the field, so I can set myself up for the future and go back and help those people who I feel need it -- and who helped me."
You hear that, Pompey? The journey has come nearly full circle. One of the Rolle boys is looking to come home.