Rolles aims to be a college track standout
DENVER – Muhammad Ali once said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
Levi Rolles has an almost Ali-like level of self-assurance as a track and field runner: he knows his limits but he believes he can win any race. He’s definitely not as out-spoken as Ali, but Rolles exudes a demeanor of supreme confidence.
Up until now, his results warrant the sentiment.
A Denver native, Rolles won two individual Class 1A state titles as a senior: in the 1,600-meter run and the 3,200-meter run. He was also part of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics’ 3,200-meter relay title-winning team.
Rolles’ biggest accomplishments in high school track and field came with the Durham-based boarding school.
But he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“Levi still came and practiced with our team after he left East Lincoln,” Mustangs coach Melvin Morrison said. Morrison was Rolles’ mentor when he ran for the Mustangs from 2008-10. He coaches the school’s cross country team but has worked with many of its track and field stars.
Rolles posted four top-five finishes in meets in his final two months as a sophomore. He stretched his legs – literally, by working out and running more, and figuratively -– when he transferred to NCSSM.
Rolles instantly became one of the Unicorns’ top runners.
“I knew he’d be good as soon as he got there,” Morrison said. “He’s got a level of talent that’s hard to find. Most runners get more tired and winded as races go on. Levi just gets stronger.”
Morrison said his protégé’s state titles are a point of pride for him, even if they came after he left the Mustangs.
So why the change from East Lincoln High, where Rolles’ friends were, to an out-of-town school?
“I wanted to go there since I was in middle school,” Rolles said. “I just thought it would be a good change of pace for me.”
Was it ever.
Rolles, who plans to major in chemistry or biology at UNC-Chapel Hill, said his efforts as a sophomore with the Mustangs gave him reason to believe that he could win a state title.
But three? “I focused on winning every race, I didn’t really think about winning one more than winning another,” Rolles said. “I wasn’t really surprised about winning them. I knew at the beginning of the year that I had a good chance at it.”
Rolles was even more succinct in his secret to success.
“I run a lot,” Rolles said. “It’s not easy for me to get tired so I just spend a lot of time on the track (at East Lincoln and NCSSM).”
His primary area of expertise is distance running; so Rolles naturally has skills that cross country coaches covet.
“I can do either one,” Rolles said. There’s that “confidence” again.
But winning hasn’t always been easy for Rolles.
He wasn’t even sure he wanted to run when he enrolled at East Lincoln in 2008.
Morrison said he had a lanky kid come out to practice one fall day that year. The youngster instantly kept pace with many of Morrison’s older, more experienced runners.
It was Rolles.
“I knew right then and there that he was something special,” Morrison said.
Rolles joined the program and became one of the Mustangs’ best runners in track and cross country.
As a sophomore Rolles suffered a stress fracture three weeks before the Class 2A cross country state meet. He was told not to participate in practice leading up to the event.
Rolles ran in the state meet with no practice for three weeks. He’d barely been on his feet since the stress fracture.
“Most runners would have called it a season,” Morrison said. “But not Levi. He pulled off a miracle.”
The result? A new personal record time and one of the quickest in the state.
“It was pretty fun,” Rolles said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I started.”
His next step, walking on with the Tar Heels’ program, promises to be as difficult.
The Tar Heels are routinely one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best track and field and cross country teams.
That shouldn’t faze Rolles, Morrison said. He’s got one major quality Morrison said some track stars lack.
“Work ethic,” Morrison said. “Levi has an incredible work ethic. He’s really devoted to what he does and I’ve always told him, ‘If you put your mind to doing something and work hard at it, you’ll do it.’
“He’s listened well.”