THE FIRST WAVE TOcome, in the 1880s, did the lowest kind of labor, hauling dirt and lumber,digging holes, plastering walls, hammering. No task was too hard. They couldwalk for miles, their skin cured for generations by saltwater and sun, and ifcancers bubbled up on their forearms later maybe they would cut them off, maybenot. Their eyes blazed with a disconcerting fire. They helped build the PeacockInn, the first hotel on the South Florida mainland, then the village of CoconutGrove that went up around it. In the 1940s a new wave of them rushed in under aU.S.-Bahamas agreement that is still known in the islands as theContract—migrants ranging up the coast of Florida to pick beans, okra, mangoesand 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. 1recruit in the nation by ESPN.com, said that he had received a text messagefrom Florida governor Jeb Bush on his recruiting trip to Florida State inNovember. "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 greatfootball player. And more importantly, he's probably going to be a Rhodesscholar. He wants to go to FSU medical school. He's a spectacular youngman."
LIKE EVERY otherimmigrant clan, they were supposed to give up their past as they dug a footholdin the new country, become just another tile in the vast American mosaic. Butthey kept coming from Nassau, Georgetown, Bimini—some in fishing boatscrunching aground in midnight coves, some crammed by the dozens into thestripped cabins of old warplanes—and settling in Coconut Grove, or across Miamiin the stretch of Overtown known as Goodbread Alley. Mothers washed clothes forthe rich white folk in their huge houses on Miami Beach. Fathers mowed thelawns, trimming edges with machetes as they inched around the acreage on theirknees.
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 inany direction in the Bahamas today and you'll likely hit a Rolle. And in theU.S. the name snaked north like kudzu; family members say there are Rolles in49 of the 50 states, more than two thousand of them, many cropping up over thelast 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 andlong-jumps at Tennessee, Henry coaches track at Auburn, Deandrea puts the shotand throws the discus and Leneice runs at Missouri State, Magnum playedbasketball at LSU and, after transferring, will suit up next year at LouisianaTech. In September, Ahsha, 22, came out of nowhere to win two rounds in thewomen's draw at the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
COLUMBUS, OHIO,SEPT. 23, 2007—Freshman Brian Rolle is getting quite the reputation as thehardest hitter on the Ohio State roster. On a day when the Buckeyes dealt a lotof punishment—"I love those vicious collisions," said coach JimTressel—Rolle was the chief perpetrator with several jarring tackles on specialteams.
EVEN IF they'venever met, Rolles recognize each other. First there's what family members callthe Rolle nose, flatter and wider than most; grandfathers have been known todeclare when they see a newborn, "You got a Rolle there." Then there'sthe attitude, laid-back on the surface but at the core relentless, given toextremes. When Rolles are good? They're brainiacs like Myron, starting for theSeminoles as a true freshman and planning to graduate premed in 2 1/2 years; orleaders like Billy, called in to rescue a powerhouse that had nearly beenabolished amid a sex scandal and mass firings. "But I don't want you tothink we're all saints," says Whitney Rolle, Myron's father. "There'sgood stories and bad stories. The people named Rolle all have a fiercecompetitiveness in them. There aren't any half steps. When they're bad? They'rereally bad."
CINCINNATI, NOV.18, 2007—Arizona's Antrel Rolle scored on interception returns of 55 and 54yards on Sunday—and had another touchdown on an interception return wiped outby 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 SamariRolle took satisfaction in showing he could play with epilepsy. Rolle, whodisclosed last week that he has the neurological condition, played his firstgame since suffering a major seizure on Nov. 2. "I thought he playedgreat," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "I have huge admiration forSamari Rolle and his passion for [continuing] to play."
NO ONE can drawup a definitive family tree. None of the most famous Rolles are closelyrelated, but that doesn't matter. They believe they are cousins, howeverdistant, and all point to the same settlement on Exuma (pop. 3,600) as theplace where a great-great-grandparent was born. But that common link would meanlittle without its unique shine; Rolle isn't like any other slave name. It'scharged by a singular moment in family lore, an enlightened act so rare for aslave owner that it instilled a bedrock self-belief still seen in Rolles 170years later. "They all have that swagger," says Marcus Forston, theMiami Northwestern High defensive tackle who plays for Billy and has met Myron,Antrel and Samari. "They all have something in their hearts—thatconfidence. Yeah: swagger."
Still, how do youcalculate the odds that two villages—not New York or Los Angeles but Rollevilleand Rolle Town—would produce one of the leading names in American sports? Howdo you resist asking what, exactly, made the Rolles so special?
WE ARE coming tothe 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'sChristian Academy, Rolle's Chat and Chew restaurant and nurse Lydia KingRolle's clinic and jounced through two bumpy detours around floods caused byTropical Storm Noel. Sunlight blasts through the windshield. He motions thedriver to slow. Kermit is 72 years old, but for a moment he is young again. Theturquoise sea flashes through the trees. To understand anything about theRolles, you must begin right here.
Kermit was nineor 10 that day. His father took him to this spot in Steventon to retrace theroute of a slave named Pompey, one of hundreds working five settlements ownedby an Englishman, Lord John Rolle. In 1829 the physically imposing Pompey led aprotest against a plan to move a group of Rolle's slaves from Exuma to anotherisland in the Bahamas. Pompey and others seized a boat and took it to Nassau toplead their case with the colonial governor. They were caught and whipped,after which Pompey escaped and famously ran five miles to Rolleville to warnother slaves that British soldiers were coming to seize them. The slaves"put hell" on the soldiers, Kermit says, laughing. "Pompey knockedthem down left, right and center."
Pompey'srebellion earned him a place in history; he is credited with sparking theBahamian antislavery movement. For the Rolles, who in the custom of the daytook the name of their owner, Pompey is an icon of resistance: He didn't takeservitude passively; he stood up and fought. A document from the time tells howsoldiers were constantly being called out to quell the Rolle plantationworkers. "They were always troublesome," says Gail Saunders, ahistorian and former director of the Bahamas' national archives. "Theywanted their freedom."
"Maybe that'show 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 runsfast: 'That could be one of Pompey's.'" Kermit, a restaurateur andbusinessman, is one of Rolleville's most prominent figures, a living repositoryof history. His great-grandmother, the daughter of a slave, told him that LordJohn's overseers whipped any slave they caught trying to read and that someslaves risked their skins to secretly teach each other the alphabet.
During that walkwith his dad on Pompey's route, Kermit also learned about the source of theRolles' distinctive pride: Lord John's benevolent deed. Legend has it that,instead of selling off his land after the British fully ended slavery in theBahamas in 1838, John Rolle willed the 5,000 acres in perpetuity to his freedslaves. Not one clod of that prime Caribbean waterfront land could be bought orsold. It could only be handed down to other Rolles.
This alone,Kermit says, makes Rolles different from other Bahamian blacks, not to mentiontheir 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 theacceptance of second-class citizenship by many African-Americans. "John,Lord Rolle, was a perfect man," Kermit says. "That's why we ask God tobless him: His mind was so clear that after emancipation, all the lands he hadhe willed back to his people. That made us the most happiest people, because hetreated 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 turnedthose people loose. [The freed slaves] didn't know where to go. They don't knowwhere they are. But my father showed me the boundaries—and within thoseboundaries, the land belonged to our people."
A vastsimplification? Perhaps. But Kermit is right about the psychological heft aprize such as Lord Rolle's can provide. In a recent essay, Harvard professorHenry Louis Gates Jr. cited lack of property as a key reason for the growingwealth gap between poor and middle-class African-Americans. Studying 20successful African-Americans, Gates found that 15 are descended from familiesthat obtained property before 1920. By then, the Rolles on Exuma had been inpossession of their land for more than 80 years. "People who own propertyfeel a sense of ownership in their future and their society," Gates wrote."They study, save, work, strive and vote. And people trapped in a cultureof 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 MyronRolle, who was born and raised in the U.S. "Something like that just makeslife 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 ofthat past, Samari Rolle says, "I don't view myself as just an average blackman. I think we're here to do more."
Yet the storyitself is about as solid as sand. Asked about Lord John's magnanimous handover,Saunders, the historian, says flatly, "He didn't. They squatted on theland. 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'sjust a legend that he gave it to them. We've got a copy of the will."
When questionsabout the will arise, Kermit pauses, then says, "No one has seen the deedas such, but I'm sure each heir was given a plot." Such a willful disregardof the facts seems odd at first. Kermit directs the car to the farthest reachof Rolleville, to a place called Back Landing. He tells of how, some 20 yearsago, he passed a pile of trash outside a government office undergoingrenovation and noticed a large engraving of Lord John among the refuse. He tookit, cleaned it and displayed it on the wall in his hilltop tavern. Today theportrait hangs in the national archives.
Kermit shows offhis spacious house high on the five acres that have been in his family forgenerations. 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 atthis 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'sseemingly banal soul. But the legend also enabled the freed Rolles to definethemselves: They weren't mere squatters; they were different. They werechosen.
"My fathertook me here and showed where he was told they came in; that gave me theinitiative to build my house right here," Kermit says. "This is why I'mso appreciative of John, Lord Rolle, and what he did as a slave owner. He leftus, 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 Universityof Phoenix Stadium, Arizona cornerback Antrel Rolle was trotting off the fieldwhen he noticed his uniform was speckled with blood. Feeling no pain, hesearched his body for a wound until he noticed spots on the glove on his lefthand. He yanked off the glove, and blood poured out so thickly that for aninstant Antrel thought his forefinger was gone. Then he saw that it was slicedopen and dislocated; the bone had popped through the flesh. "It waspointing up," Antrel says. "My finger was pretty much hanging, youknow?"
In the lockerroom team medical personnel manipulated the finger back into place, twice stucka six-inch-long hypodermic needle into the web between Antrel's fore- andmiddle 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 onlyone defensive series. "Now that's a Rolle thing," says his father, Al,57. "Right there."
But few tooknote, because Antrel had contributed only two tackles and one pass deflectionin the 21--14 Cardinals win and seemed on track to become just another NFLbust. The No. 8 pick in the 2005 draft, he missed most of his rookie seasonwith injuries. He started all 16 games last year but, dogged by concerns abouthis 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, aftermembers of every segment of the community—whites, blacks, Asians andHispanics—rallied to his side, he got the job. Antrel learned how to act like aprofessional. "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 everytime."
Antrel'sgrandfather came over on the Contract with a sixth-grade education,sharecropped and stayed. He worked three menial jobs, raised nine kids and hasbeen married to the same woman for 63 years. Al and his brothers startedworking with their dad when they were six years old, Friday afternoons and allday on Saturdays. "And he would not let us miss a day of school," Alsays. "That's why I come to work every day; this is my 28th year, and I'vemissed three days. You'd stay home from school? He'd double back from work, andmy mom would hide us in the closet. A couple of times he caught me at home, andhe 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 hadreported in. Man, he was tough."
Drafted by theArmy, Al later completed his college degree. Together with his wife of 27years, Armelia, a longtime career counselor at Homestead High, he madeeducation 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 12years and finished high school with a 3.8 GPA. He graduated from Miami withhonors and a 3.3. Al rose through the police ranks over 18 years and became thefirst black captain, then major, then chief in Homestead history."Homestead was a pretty redneck racist town," Al says. "I neverthought I'd be a police officer here, never mind the chief."
Antrel got intoserious trouble once. In July 2004, just before his senior year at Miami, hewas suspended by the team after being charged with battery of a Miami policeofficer and resisting arrest. Antrel says he was approached for blockingtraffic, but the police complaint states that he was on the street fightingwith a group of people. Antrel, who denies there was a fight, says the policetried to pull him from his car. He acknowledges that he shook off the officer'shand from his arm but says he did not hit him; two weeks later the assistantstate attorney called the contact between the two men "merelyincidental" 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'twant anybody looking at me differently. My name carries a lot."
It was an ordealto which he never should have been subjected, he says—just like his benchingthis 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 utilitydefender, filling in at five positions, including linebacker, against Tampa Bayon Nov. 4, making 10 tackles and playing on special teams too. Coach KenWhisenhunt praised him for his attitude and progress. Three days beforeArizona's Nov. 18 game at Cincinnati, Green rolled his ankle, and Rolle seemedcertain to get his old job back. But by game time Green was in the lineupagain.
"For whateverreason I got pulled," Antrel says about losing his starting job in thepreseason. "I don't know the reason, but it doesn't matter. The only thingthat matters is how I handle the adversity. I've never once gotten loud with mycoaches. I've never once shown attitude. I've never said, Forget this year. Theonly thing I've done is work my ass off. I do that to let them know: I'm goingto show you you made a mistake."
That Sunday, in a35--27 Cardinals victory, Antrel showed them all. He came off the bench tointercept two Carson Palmer passes and return them 55 and 54 yards fortouchdowns, finishing off the second with a cartwheel and a backflip. Then, onone of the game's last plays, he made his third pick of the day and ran 71yards into the end zone before a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct againstteammate Antonio Smith nullified the touchdown. No matter: This was the kind ofday that can recharge a career.
Or two. High in aluxury box at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Samari Rolle watched theArizona highlights while his own team was losing again on the field below. Fortwo months, the 31-year-old Ravens cornerback had kept secret the headaches,blackouts and epileptic seizures that had terrified him and his family andpushed him to the brink of retirement. This was the sixth game he had missedsince receiving a diagnosis of epilepsy in September and beginning thehit-or-miss process of calibrating his treatment. After his third majorconvulsion, on Nov. 2, Samari had awakened several days in a row feeling histongue thick and raw and wondering if he was through with football. But then hebegan 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 comeback."
After theCincinnati 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 thephone. "It's a proclamation from 2006, I believe: CHIEF ALEXANDER ROLLEDAY. They gave him his own day in Homestead. I took this plaque from homewithout him even knowing because it means so much to me that one man can makesuch a difference. And it just happens that that man is the man who raisedme."
FORTY MILES northof Homestead, Chill Will quietly glides past his screaming and rantingassistants, fields questions from anxious parents and roams the troubled hallsof Miami Northwestern High as if he hasn't a care in the world. "How do Ilook?" coach Billy Rolle asks one of the female office staffers with aflirty chuckle. It's a rhetorical question. Rolle always looks calm and cool,hence the nickname, and nothing in this supercharged universe seems strongenough to shake him. This week's game? The pressure to win Northwestern's firstnational championship? The tightrope he walks for all the families, players andadministrators who almost saw the football program shut down last summer? Thenew, last-chance academic and behavioral standards he must enforce on 60testosterone-fueled, pigskin-mad teenagers?
"If you lookat me, you can tell I'm carrying that weight," says Northwestern'sfirst-year principal, Charles Hankerson. "You look at him? He justsmiles."
A year ago theschool and its football program were a shambles. On Dec. 7, 2006, as the Bullsprepared to play for the Florida Class 6A title, star running back AntwainEasterling, then 18, was arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious battery ona minor after he admitted to having had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girlin a school bathroom three months earlier. Rather than being expelled,suspended or even benched, Easterling was allowed to suit up two days after hisarrest and ran for 157 yards and a touchdown to lead Northwestern to its third6A championship—and spark outrage throughout the state. (Easterling, now afreshman at Southern Mississippi, entered a pretrial diversion program, and ifhe fulfills its requirements the charge against him will be dropped.)Allegations that then principal Dwight Bernard hadn't reported Easterling'scrime to the police despite having known about it resulted in Bernard'sindictment on two counts of official misconduct (he pled not guilty, and thetrial is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2008), the reassigning of 21 Northwesternadministrators and staffers, including football coach Roland Smith and severalof his assistants, and a threat by Miami-Dade County public schoolssuperintendent Rudy Crew to cancel the Bulls' 2007 season. The Northwesternteam, says Hankerson, "was totally broken."
The school, inMiami's predominantly black, predominantly poor neighborhood of Liberty City,was little better. Northwestern had been assessed a D or F in state measures ofacademic progress for six years straight, and Hankerson arrived in Aprilplanning a complete overhaul. A few months passed before Crew allowed thefootball season to go forward, but only after demanding that all players andtheir parents sign a contract promising to meet standards such as a minimum 2.5GPA, and a limited number of absences. As for the new coach, Hankerson had onelogical choice. Billy Rolle knew Northwestern, having served as an assistant onits first title team in 1995 and then leading the Bulls to their secondchampionship in '98. He was the only coach in Miami--Dade County to have wonstate titles at two schools. But most important, the 46-year-old Rolle had thetemperament and background necessary to help Hankerson change the school'sdangerously skewed culture.
Like many of themore successful Rolles, Billy was raised in a home built upon a strongmarriage. His parents, Billy Sr. and Frankie, were so revered as educators inCoconut Grove that one public building is named for him and two for her. Thecouple, who were together for 47 years until Billy Sr.'s death in 1998, setaside a room in their home for students with nowhere else to go. People tellBilly 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'sgrandfather, Obediah, came from Rolle Town and helped build the Grove, and hisgrandmother became part of the Bahamian neighborhood there that, in the classicimmigrant way, could be as smothering as it was supportive. "It was allabout family," Billy says. "Everybody was kin in the Grove, so it waslike, 'Hey, you can't date this girl; she may be your cousin.' My dad's motherlived in the house right back of us. You know how a wife wants you to breakaway from your mother? My mom used to tell me, 'I could never pull [yourfather]away from the family.' A few times my mom tried to get my dad to move toJacksonville. But the Grove was just home for him. It's deep. I find it specialmyself."
Billy figuredhe'd be a teacher, too. He took up the profession in the 1980s, after a briefplaying career in the USFL and the Canadian Football League, but ended up as afull-time coach. His first stint at Northwestern ended in 2000, when he decidedhe needed to work closer to his home in Richmond Heights and spend more timewith his wife, Loretta, and two young children. But once it became clear lastJuly that the Bulls' senior-heavy team would be allowed to play the 2007season, alums started calling, and Billy found a return to Northwesternimpossible to resist. The Bulls still run Smith's hyperactive spread offensebut with a Rolle flair: trick plays like passing to Forston, a defensive tackleturned tight end, for a two-point conversion; in-your-face tactics likepurposely going offside to run down the clock. Billy's defense almost rebelledagainst that one, but he just smiled as time ran out. "I know why they callhim Chill Will," Forston says. "This guy don't talk too much, but he'sobserved 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 looklike a genius. And with Division I scholarships cascading on his players likeautumn leaves, Billy doesn't sound a bit crazy when he says this team is themost talented he's ever seen. The Bulls have cruised since flying into Texasand 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 behaviorhas gotten harder as the wins have piled up. From personally chiding onereceiver for an over-the-top touchdown celebration to insisting onSaturday-morning tutoring sessions, the principal has done things over whichother 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 2.5conduct grade standard.
"It appearsfrom 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 themicroscope 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, tomake it understand there's a new system, culture, way of thinking? That's beenall Billy."
Well, truth betold, it has been Billy and that whole Rolle thing. Chill Will didn't springout of nowhere. He's part of a network, a continuum born of blood and sweat; heand Antrel and Samari and their fathers have all talked and found some oldnames in common and decided, yes, somewhere along the line they're family.
A few weeks agoBilly was lying on his couch on a Saturday afternoon, exhausted after histeam'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 aboutthe possibility of Northwestern's winning out. (Last Friday night the Bullsbeat South Dade 55--14 to advance to the state 6A semifinals.) As he spoke, youcould hear a television in the background. Billy kept flipping between twofootball games: Ohio State--Michigan, where he could watch the Buckeyes' BrianRolle knock people down left, right and center, and Florida State--Maryland,where Billy could see Myron Rolle put hell on the Terps' receivers. "Therehe is now," Billy said as Myron crossed the screen. Then he clicked to OhioState. "I'm looking at both of them."
Myron and Brianwould win that day, and Antrel's huge performance against Cincinnati 24 hourslater would make for a sweet trifecta: high school, college and NFL all gettinga good taste of the island.
A nation, like atree, does not thrive well till it is engraffed with a foreign stock.
—RALPH WALDO EMERSON, 1823
BEVERLY ROLLE hadone thought when it came to the birth of her fifth son, and nothing couldchange it: He would be an American. He would grow up in this country and getall the benefits, opportunities and, especially, educational options that U.S.citizenship could provide. Her husband, Whitney, wasn't so driven; they had agood life in Nassau, didn't they? But at some point when Whitney was in collegein Minnesota or grad school in Florida or living in New Jersey while he workedat 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 NewJersey!"
Their threeoldest boys had been born in the Bahamas but had some schooling in the U.S. Thefourth was born in Ridgewood, N.J., but returned with the family to theBahamas. Midway into her pregnancy with the fifth, in 1986, Beverly leftWhitney in Nassau, sent the two older boys to Whitney's sister's home in NewJersey, 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 squallingdeep 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 reallybecome successful."
Myron's family,in fact, is a success story suitable for an exhibit at Ellis Island. Whitney'sfather worked the Contract up and down the East Coast but always shuttled hometo Exuma and then Nassau, working as a mason until he died. Whitney and Beverlymarried 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 becamean investment banker in Pennsylvania, Marvis a lawyer in New Jersey, Mordecai aU.S. Army medic; McKinley is getting his graduate degree in sports managementat Florida State. That's not so rare a scorecard for immigrant couples out ofthe West Indies.
"A foreignperson who comes here will work harder because there's so many opportunitiesthat people just ignore," says Whitney, 57, now a senior systems engineerwith a New Jersey financial services company. "Myron was telling me theother 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 along time ago. And in the meantime, people are coming home with a C average? Ifyou're getting a C, something is wrong with you."
But by anystandard, Myron has always been a young man in a hurry. One of the nation's topprep prospects, he received 57 scholarship offers as a senior at The Hun Schoolin Princeton, N.J., and announced his decision live, out of Trump Plaza inAtlantic City, on ESPN2. It wasn't the toughest decision; Florida State had asecret weapon. "Samari was Myron's hero," said Seminoles head coachBobby Bowden.
Myron firstphoned 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 tofigure that out. But Samari had been keeping tabs on Myron, and he praisedMyron more for his work in the classroom than for his achievements on thefootball field. Soon they were talking three times a week, about their strongfaith, tight families, tough dads, educational priorities—the whole Bahamianethos. Samari had grown up in Miami Beach, the son of two teachers, Harry andGrace, married 32 years now. Upset about his scarce playing time as a junior atMiami Beach High, Samari had begged his father to let him transfer to MiamiNorthwestern, where Billy Rolle was the defensive coordinator, for his senioryear. 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 comesalong, everything went according to plan," Samari says. "Coach Bowdenwon his national championship Jan. 1, 1994, and came to my house on Jan. 2 at10 a.m. My dad said, 'I told you you were a Rolle.'"
Common bloodlineor no, it was eerie for Myron to hear something so, well, familiar. "Wehaven't found that we're cousins," he says, "but I feel we're so closeI could call him my cousin. We'll text-message, call. I spend time with hiskids, his wife. He's somebody I can ask for any advice: how to cover athree-yard slant or how to talk to a girl. He's pretty much a mentor."
After graduatingfrom high school a semester early, in January 2006, Myron enrolled at FSU inexercise science with plans to graduate by the end of summer 2008. He expectsto play one more year of college ball—while finishing off a graduate degree inpublic administration—and then six or seven years in the NFL before turning tofulfill his real ambition: becoming a neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, after Myronbroke out big as a roving safety four games into his freshman season, histackles and interceptions declined this fall, but the FSU coaches don't doubthim. "I can say this: As a sophomore he's a lot further along than Samariwas," says Bowden.
And to hearSamari tell it, Myron may always be ahead of him. "He's the perfectkid," says the Ravens cornerback, now the father of three. "Whenever Isee Myron, what my wife once said runs through my head: 'That's what I want myson to be.'"
WITH MYRON'S 3.8GPA and physical gifts, it's tempting to see him as the apotheosis of Rollefamily values. Yes, as Antrel says, "it has to continue. He's not going tobe the last Rolle who's going to make it." For most Rolles born in theU.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 tripto Exuma when this football season ends. Myron, though, is connected to theislands in a way that even his brothers and parents aren't. He's been goingthere since he was a baby, and something in the spirit of the place speaks tohim in a way the U.S. doesn't. His great athletic ambition isn't the Hall ofFame 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 tothe Bahamas someday and open a free clinic.
"I was bornin the United States, and I'm a citizen, and I love this country," Myronsays, "but the Bahamas is who I am. Every time I go back, I feel so muchsupport and so much love: my cousins, my aunties, my uncles. I see that thefacilities there are not up to the standards of the U.S. Not enough attentionis paid to medicine, to practitioners and facilities; there's oftenovercrowding in hospitals.
"I'm notgoing to lie. I've been blessed. My family's provided for me. But I feel thatwith 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 lotof kids who are spoiled because they have everything given to them, and thenyou go to the Bahamas where people are just happy to be living, to have clotheson their back. That's why I'll continue to work hard in the classroom and onthe field, so I can set myself up for the future and go back and help thosepeople 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 islooking to come home.
CHILL WILL ALWAYS LOOKS CALM AND COOL, EVEN ON THE SIDELINE.
POMPEY'S REVOLT IS ONE OF MANY TALES KERMIT TELLS HIS GRANDSON.
"I'VE NEVER ONCE SHOWN ATTITUDE. ALL I'VE EVER DONE IS WORK MY ASSOFF."
"YOU'RE A ROLLE," HIS FATHER ONCE TOLD HIM. "TOUGH IT OUT."
AHSHA, MAGNUM, SASHA, GEORGETTE
THE ROLLE ETHOS: STRONG FAITH, TIGHT FAMILIES, TOUGH DADS, EDUCATION
COURTESY OF FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY SPORTS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT
After playing pro ball and getting a medical degree, Florida State's Myron Rolle (right) plans to return to Exuma, home of Rolles past and present (opposite page), and open a clinic.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Bill Frakes
[See caption above]
PHOTOGRAPH BY Bill Frakes
PHOTOGRAPH BY Bill Frakes
RICK SCUTERI/US PRESSWIRE
MARK J. REBILAS/US PRESSWIRE
RAY GRAHAM/PGA OF AMERICA