Ryan Rolison approached the mound on opening day 2018 as the Rebels’ new ace. He forced the the first batter he faced to strike out swinging – not a bad start for the sophomore lefty. The game would prove to be the springboard to a breakout year for Rolison as he struck out 12 on the day and would continue to shine as the new Friday night starter in Oxford.
“He’s a special kid, a special kind of talent and a fun-loving kid that’s got the ability to become an intense competitor when it’s game time,” Spencer Nelson, Rolison’s high school pitching coach, said.
Rolison has been a star in the making since his high school days at the University School of Jackson in Jackson, Tennessee. His coaches knew early on that he was special, and now that he is projected as a top 10 prospect in the upcoming MLB Draft, they have been proven right.
“His whole senior year (was dominant). He gave up three earned runs the whole year,” Jack Peel, University School of Jackson head coach, said. “I think he was 10-0, and I think he gave up 12 hits all year. He threw three or four no-hitters and a perfect game. It was just the most dominant high school pitching performance I’ve seen, ever.”
Rolison struck fear in opposing coaches who knew that their teams would have major problems against the lefty phenom. As a sophomore in high school, he pitched in the state championship game on just two days’ rest and after throwing more than 100 pitches in his last outing.
“Somebody asked, ‘Who are you throwing today?’ And the answer was Rolison,” Nelson said. “You could just see his face drop.”
Although he often ruins the days of opposing coaches and players when he is on the mound, Rolison is known in Ole Miss’ locker room as a cheerful and goofy guy who loves to have fun. His best friend on the team, Greer Holston, first met Rolison back when they were both juniors in high school and had committed to play at Ole Miss. It was a trip that Holston would not soon forget.
“We went down to Tampa for East Coast Pro, which is a tournament for commits, and we actually got to room together,” Holston said, laughing. “It was me, Grae (Kessinger) and Rolo (Rolison), and that’s the first time I met both of them. That was a fun trip because they both messed with me. They would throw pizza slices at me when I was sleeping and stuff like that.”
Rolison’s teammates have taken to calling him Rolo instead of Ryan. He isn’t cocky or arrogant, which is a testament to his character and his upbringing, seeing as many successful young athletes let the hype surrounding them get to their heads.
“Everybody was kind of reserved (at the East Coast Pro tournament), but the one person that wasn’t reserved was, of course, Rolo,” Holston said. “He just left everything on the table. He was outgoing. He’s an out-there kind of person, so that’s what he is, and that’s who he always is.”
Rolison started his baseball career at the age of four, when his dad encouraged him to play tee-ball with his older brother. He would soon be playing other sports, including football and basketball, but quickly realized that baseball was his passion.
“I played football and basketball up till probably middle school, and I played football through my freshman year of high school,” Rolison said. “I wanted to get serious about baseball, so I kind of put that aside and focused everything on baseball.”
Ryan credits his dad as the biggest influence on his baseball career. His father coached him in little league and would always make time to throw with him after he got home from work.
“He’s always been a baseball fan and would always push me to be in the backyard, no matter what time it was,” Rolison said. “He would be there to throw with me … push me in the weight room and push me to pursue something that I wanted to do.”
Coming out of high school, Rolison was the No. 1 player in Tennessee and the 10th-ranked left-handed pitcher in the country. He was a major commitment for Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco and was a part of the Rebels’ No. 1 2016 recruiting class.
“There would be 30-35 scouts in the stands (to see him pitch),” Nelson said. “It was like nothing our high school guys had ever seen, but he in no way tried to make it about him.”
Ryan Rolison is extremely talented and was blessed with a great arm, but a lot of his success can be attributed to his impeccable work ethic. His coaches describe him as a little kid that can’t wait to get to the ballpark and play. He even started doing yoga during his senior year of high school because he believed it would help his game.
“He did yoga on his own his senior year without telling anybody,” Nelson said. “He thought he needed to work on his flexibility and his core strength, and that wasn’t something anybody had to tell him to do. He did that on his own.”
Rolison committed to Ole Miss early in the recruiting process and never wavered from his decision. He was lightly recruited by some small schools during his sophomore year of high school, but he already had his mind set on Ole Miss.
“Coach Lafferty took me on a visit here, and I thought it would be the best fit for me,” Rolison said. “What can you not like about this place? You look at the atmosphere here – you look at the campus – and it’s two hours away from home, so it’s just a good fit for me.”
In his freshman campaign, Rolison was quite impressive. He posted a 3.06 ERA in 61.2 innings of work and struck out 64 in the process, which was good enough for second on the team, behind David Parkinson. Prior to start of the 2018 season, Mike Bianco named Rolison as the Friday night starter. Traditionally, the best pitcher on a staff gets to start on Fridays, so that was a big vote of confidence from Bianco.
“I was really fortunate to have a good pitching coach,” Rolison said. “He really honed in on the mechanics (of pitching) and learning how to pitch. He made me work on pitching more than velocity. (We) just kind of worked on my mechanics and how to pitch … and that really helped me.”
Rolison hasn’t disappointed in his new role as the Rebels’ ace. With only three weeks left in the regular season, he has posted an ERA of 3.26 in 66.1 innings on the mound, so far. He also has 82 strikeouts on the year – by far the most of anyone on the team. For comparison, Brady Feigl, who has the second-most strikeouts, has recorded 58 in 64.0 innings.
“Playing on this staff pushes you to be your best every single day,” Rolison said. “You’ve got a guy coming for your job, and I’ve said it before: We’ve got several guys that could all be Friday night starters. It really pushes us to get better every single day and pick each other’s brains about what (we) do best.”
Rolison is having a very good sophomore campaign as the Rebels’ ace, having racked up multiple double-digit strikeout games and helping Ole Miss to a 35-11 record on the year. On the other hand, he has had a couple of games that weren’t Rolison-esque, but he has bounced back every time to perform at a high level.
“(Rolison) is a great competitor, good kid, very coachable,” Peel said. “Even though he probably hasn’t shaved yet, he’s tough as nails.”