By PETE THAMEL
Florida State safety Myron Rolle was awarded a Rhodes scholarship Saturday. He is the first major-college football player of his generation to win what is considered the world’s most prestigious postgraduate academic scholarship.
He became the most prominent student-athlete to win the award since Bill Bradley at Princeton in 1965. Bradley was later a Knicks star, a senator and a presidential candidate. Other winners have included Pat Haden (U.S.C. and the Rams) and Tom McMillen (Maryland and the N.B.A. and Congress).
Rolle’s quest to the win the Rhodes had received heavy attention from the news media because he chose to risk missing all or part of Florida State’s pivotal game at Maryland on Saturday night to have the interview, which took place in Birmingham, Ala.
Rolle received the news about 5 p.m.; he then received a police escort to a local airport, where a private plane waited to take him to the game. He entered the game late in the second quarter of a 37-3 victory. “He is flying high,” Sally Karioth, a Florida State nursing professor who accompanied Rolle to his interview, said before the game. “He was hopping. He’s usually real sedate.”
Rolle was one of two winners selected from 13 finalists interviewed in Birmingham. Parker Goyer, a former player on the women’s tennis team at Duke, was the other winner.
Rolle is in his final football season at Florida State and now faces a difficult decision. He will have to choose between perhaps playing in the N.F.L. next year and studying at Oxford. His planned course of study would be a one-year master’s degree in medical anthropology; he plans to become a doctor and open a clinic to help needy people in the Bahamas. Rolle has said that if he wins the award, he will make a decision with his family when things settle down.
“I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he heads off to Oxford in October,” Karioth said of Rolle. “He’s really an academic. There aren’t a lot of Renaissance kids out there. He really is.”
Rolle has long stood out at Florida State. He was the country’s top recruit, started as a freshman and has had an all-American-caliber junior year in 2008.
Along with graduating in two and a half years with a 3.75 grade point average in pre-med, Rolle was awarded a $4,000 grant to conduct cancer research and set up a program in Okeechobee, Fla., to teach Seminole Indian children about health and physical fitness.
“It’s a fantastic accomplishment on his part,” Garrett Johnson, a former Florida State shot-put champion and 2006 Rhodes winner, said in a telephone interview Saturday. “I always thought he was a deserving candidate, but I was a bit biased.”Rolle’s victory is also considered a major boost for a Florida State athletic department that has been an academic punch line for the past year. A cheating scandal affected the eligibility of 60 athletes, resulting in three firings and a self-imposed probation. “Having two student-athletes win speaks very highly of the caliber of athlete we have at Florida State,” Johnson said. “We are representative of a vast majority of the student-athletes at Florida State. It’s great to project that on a national stage.”