It’s really the people that make the place.
And no one is a better example of that than Spencer Rolland.
At the end of his four years at Harvard University, Rolland knew it would be time to continue his football career somewhere else. The Ivy League does not allow graduate students to play, and with an additional year of eligibility from his redshirt year, plus a COVID year, Rolland was prepared to enter the transfer portal in search of a new place to play two more seasons of college football.
He ultimately decided that UNC would be the best fit for his future. The offensive lineman, originally from Burnsville, Minnesota, transferred to Carolina last season and had an immediate impact on the team.
“UNC just fit the mold of what I was looking for,” Rolland said. “They gave me an opportunity to start right away and compete at a high level.”
During his first season with the Tar Heels, Rolland started in 13 games and played in 975 snaps for one of the most dynamic offenses in the country last year.
The opportunity to get on the field and contribute to the success of the offense was important to Rolland, but it wasn’t the only factor in his decision to suit up in the Carolina Blue.
“Just coming here as a grad transfer, they immediately were inclusive, wanting me to be a part of the team and saw some of my value was able to bring me into the family,” Rolland said. “It’s one of those things that you spend so much time together, you really have to love the people you’re around. I can certainly say that I do.”
Being a part of a team and a family atmosphere was something that Rolland had experienced in his upbringing, as he was inspired by his older brother, Tyler, who also played football in college.
With a four-year age gap between the Rolland brothers, there were plenty of opportunities for Spencer to watch and learn from his big brother.
He would attend Tyler’s games through high school and college, and instead of watching the ball, Spencer would keep a close eye on Tyler to watch how he was blocking, how he was making plays, especially since the two played the same position.
“I could see what he was doing and try to emulate that, and honestly, I was trying to be better than him,” Rolland said. “He set the bar pretty high. I wanted to go above that.”
Rolland also sets the bar extremely high for himself – on the football field, in the classroom, and around the community.
As a Kenan-Flagler Business School student, Rolland keeps his schedule packed but finds time to manage the often “hectic,” lifestyle of a Division I student-athlete.
“Being a student is demanding, but also being an athlete is very demanding, and combining those two gets you into very hectic schedules,” Rolland said. “I remember during fall camp, business school had some sort of orientation classes that were required or mandatory. So, I was playing this dance of coming to the football facility, then race over to the business school to catch the class on time, then come back and join the film or lift session.”
Managing this type of lifestyle might seem impossible to some. For Rolland, this is exactly the type of organized chaos he longs for.
“I’m one of those crazy people. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Rolland said.
When he isn’t playing football, getting stronger in the weight room, watching film to improve his game, or taking classes about global business strategies, Rolland enjoys spending free pockets of time engaging with the Chapel Hill community where he has felt welcomed into a new family.
“I think that’s what really differentiates here from a lot of places is that family aspect,” Rolland said. “I think just the Carolina community in general, from the football team, to academics, to the students, even the local people around – it really feels like a family.”
After all, the people that make up the Carolina family are a big reason that Rolland ended up in Chapel Hill.
Despite his busy schedules, Rolland prioritizes giving back to the fans who support him. This responsibility was ingrained in him during his time at Harvard, and he hopes to continue to serve the community throughout his final season as a Tar Heel, and even into his professional career.
“One thing my coach at Harvard, Coach Murphy, talked about is the more that you have, the more you’re expected to give back,” Rolland said. “We’re very blessed and fortunate to be in this situation, playing at the University of North Carolina, it’s easy to give back to the community because the community gives so much to us.”
The support that fans and the Chapel Hill community give to the football program is unmatched, especially as many people anticipate an exciting 2023 season that will build off the success the Tar Heels had in their previous 9-5 campaign, in which UNC won the coastal division and had a chance to play in the ACC Championship game.
Rolland is optimistic about the upcoming season, especially with so much returning talent on the roster. The late season troubles the Tar Heels faced have sparked a sharper focus for those who have experience playing at an ACC level, who know what it takes to win, and who are motivated to be back on top.
“Everybody has that taste of where we can go and the capability we have and just through this first half of spring practice, you can tell a change in the intensity and level of focus both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball,” Rolland said.
Rolland and many of his returning teammates realize how close they were to winning more games last season. As Rolland put it – football is truly a game of inches.
“Just making sure that every single day we’re focusing on those little things that will make a difference down the road,” Rolland said. “I think we have been doing that the first half of spring football.”
With returning players like Rolland being joined by several new names on the roster, Tar Heel fans should be excited to see the team back in action soon.
Olivia Mundorf will be graduating in May with her degree in Journalism from UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. During her time at Carolina, Olivia has focused on pursuing a career in sports broadcasting and journalism, and has spent several semesters covering UNC sports and sharing the compelling stories of the athletes, teams, and community surrounding one of the top athletic departments in the nation. After graduation, Olivia will remain in Chapel Hill as a member of the UNC Sport Administration Graduate Program.