Today's Super Bowl marks the end of the most frustrating season in Myron Rolle's football career.
From the time he was 6 years old and playing for the Galloway Township Mustangs of the Atlantic County Junior Football League, Rolle was a star. He was among the nation's top high school players before accepting a scholarship to Florida State University, and he played well enough for the Seminoles to be drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2010.
But Rolle, now 25, never put on a helmet and shoulder pads this season. Released by the Titans at the end of the preseason this summer, the 6-foot-2, 219-pound safety was out of football until signing a contract last Tuesday with the Pittsburgh Steelers for next season.
"This season was very difficult for me," Rolle said earlier this week in a phone interview. "I've never in my life experienced delayed success or gratification. It was hard learning patience and persistence. (Signing with an NFL team) happened a lot later than I expected."
Rolle actually has not played in a regular-season game since the 2008 season at Florida State. He took a year off from football to study at Oxford University in England after earning a Rhodes Scholarship. Then he spent the entire 2010 NFL season on the Titans' practice squad.
After new Titans coach Mike Munchak cut him in September, Rolle headed to his parents' home in Hamilton Township outside Trenton and waited for another team to give him a shot. The Houston Texans brought him in for a workout in October but didn't sign him. He didn't get another opportunity until the Steelers called his agent, former Penn State and NFL wide receiver Chafie Fields, last weekend and invited Rolle for a tryout.
"I can't say that I was surprised it took so long because the NFL lockout made it difficult for players to catch on with other teams," Fields said in a phone interview. "But I have no doubt that Myron will take full advantage of this opportunity. I think it's ridiculous that he has to prove himself all over again because he's always been the best player on his team at every level. But he's the hardest working player I've ever represented and I'm sure he'll have no trouble proving himself to the Steelers."
Rolle's signing produced mixed reactions on the Steelers' fan websites. Some view him as camp fodder that will be released before the 2012 regular season. Others regard him as a talented player who hasn't gotten an opportunity.
Rolle could replace Will Allen as a backup to Pro Bowl safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.
"Good signing!" a user named St. Nick said on BehindTheCurtain.com. "He's got the potential and an intelligent, heady (defensive back) certainly can't hurt. Looking forward to seeing what (Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell) Lake and (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau can do with him.
ToonaSteel wrote: "I truly hope that during the time off he has kept his nose to the football grind and has stayed physically fit. Who knows? I'm pulling for him, though."
Rolle has remained dedicated to football, despite the numerous opportunities that await him in other fields. He eventually plans to attend medical school in hopes of becoming a neurosurgeon, and he could have a future in politics.
Before he pursues those dreams, however, he wants to fulfill his biggest one and make the NFL. That determination is what led him to keep working out during the season at his high school alma mater, The Hun School, when it would have been easier to just hang up his cleats.
"Honestly, I'm just completely dedicated to football right now," Rolle said. "I know I have other talents that can lead me in a different direction, but at this point in my life, I wanted to make football my No. 1 priority. I don't want to delve into other fields right now. I don't want to be known as a jack of all trades.
"I still plan on going to medical school, but I'm just not interested in that right now. Football is my desire. Once I get that out of my system, then I'll pursue those other goals, but now is not the time. I'm still hungry and I still have a lot to prove."
One of his main challenges has been convincing NFL executives that he is dedicated to the sport. He slipped into the sixth round of the 2010 draft in part because he gave up his final season of college football to earn a master's degree in medical anthropology at Oxford.
During the NFL lockout last summer, Rolle accompanied former President Bill Clinton on a humanitarian mission to the Republic of Congo.
But he never abandoned football. He worked out extensively while at Oxford. Upon returning to the U.S., he prepared for the draft and began the 2011 offseason by training with speed expert Tom Shaw at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"I can't tell you how many times I've called teams for Myron and they ask me if he's committed to football," Fields said. "It's absolutely crazy. I wouldn't be calling them if he didn't want to play. Why do they put a mark next to him because he's accomplished so much outside of football? It's like they think he's too smart to play football."
Extra point: Another local football player, Atlantic City native Jack Corcoran, is in a similar situation. Corcoran, a standout fullback at St. Joseph High School and Rutgers University, spent the entire season out of the NFL after being released by the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the preseason.
He spent parts of the 2010 season on practice squads with Houston and Tennessee. While with the Titans, he lived with Rolle.
"Myron and I are very good friends," Corcoran said in a phone interview. "When I heard about him signing with the Steelers, I was very happy for him. Now I'm hoping I get the same kind of opportunity, and I'll be ready when it comes."
Corcoran's first challenge is finding a team that uses a fullback. More and more NFL offenses are shying away from using one in favor of an extra wide receiver.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would have switched to another position," Corcoran said. "But it's too late for that now. I just have to hope a team gives me a chance."
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