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 a 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 thats got the ability to become an intense competitor when it’s game time,” Spencer Nelson, Rolison’s high school pitching coach said.
Ole Miss starting pitcher Ryan 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 knowing that their team 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 over 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 ruined opposing coaches and players days when he was on the mound, Rolison is known in the Ole Miss’ locker room as a cheerful and goofy guy that 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 were both committed to play at Ole Miss. It was a trip that Holston will 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 jokingly. “It was me, Grae (Kessinger) and Rolo 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.”
His teammates have taken to calling him Rolo instead of Ryan. He isn’t a cocky or arrogant guy, and that’s a testament to his character and his upbringing. A lot of kids would let the hype, like Ryan has surrounding him, get to their head.
“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 let 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 T-ball with his older brother. He would soon be playing other sports, such as football and basketball, but quickly realized that baseball was what he wanted to do full-time.
“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 kinda 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 out there and, you know, 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 the state of 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 ranked recruiting class in 2016.
“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 very 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 in his senior year 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.”
He committed to Ole Miss early on in the recruiting process and never wavered from his decision. He was lightly recruited by some small schools his sophomore year but he already had his mind set on Oxford.
“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 very impressive. He posted a 3.06 ERA in 61.2 innings of work and struck out 64 in the process, good enough for second on the team behind David Parkinson. Prior to the 2018 season, Mike Bianco named Rolison as the Friday night starter. Traditionally, the best pitcher on a staff gets to go on Friday, 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 and learning how to pitch. He made me work on pitching more than velocity. Just kind of worked on my mechanics and how to pitch early on and that really helped me.”
Rolison hasn’t disappointed in his new role as the Rebels’ ace. With just three weeks left in the regular season he has posted an ERA of 3.26 in 66.1 innings on the mound. He also has 82 K’s on the year which is by far the most on the team. Brady Feigl sits at 58 in 64.0 innings, second on the team.
“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 they do best.”
Rolison is having a very good sophomore campaign as the Rebels’ ace. He has racked up multiple double digit strikeout games and has helped 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-esk, but he bounced back every time and performed 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.”