FRUITPORT – It’s been a tough football season for all the Fruitport Trojans, including Gianni Rowan.
Nobody likes to lose, and the Trojans, for all of their efforts, have yet to find the victory column this year.
There are probably a few players who will be happy to compete hard in their last game, then put football aside for a while, before getting back to it next season.
But that’s not necessarily the case for the Fruitport seniors, particularly Rowan.
He’s been playing and loving football since he was small, and he learned what it was like to go without it for a season.
Rowan was all set to join the Trojans varsity last year after playing two seasons of junior varsity.
Then classroom issues – specifically his grades – got in the way, and he wasn’t able to suit up at all in 2022.
“It was bad,” Rowan said. “It stung. I had been playing football since I was five years old, then I missed out on one of my most important years, my junior year.”
It was a challenging time for Rowan, particularly since Fruitport was so good in 2022, posting an 8-3 record, winning a share of a conference championship and going to the playoffs.
He showed up and cheered for the team at home games, but knew he should be in uniform.
“I felt like I let my team down,” Rowan said. “I had been playing with those guys a long time.”
Rowan was obviously at a crossroads at that point. He could have continued down the same road, said goodbye to football and wrestling in the winter, or get his grades up and get back to the sports he loves.
He chose the smarter path.
“I studied,” he said. “I applied myself. I asked for help when I needed it. That school year was tough for me. I was just trying to stay on track, and I persisted.”
There was no happier Trojan than Rowan when football practice started this year and he was there for it.
“It was exciting, being out there again to play the game I love after a whole year,” he said. “This was the chance to prove myself.”
Fruitport head coach Nate Smith has been happy to have Rowan back, particularly for the emotional charge he brings to the team.
“He’s real passionate, really into the game,” Smith said. “He loves to fly around and brings a lot of energy. In practice he’s always getting everyone fired up. He’s always yelling and encouraging these guys.”
Rowan, a starting linebacker, has battled every week with his teammates all season, without much luck.
But they were still very pumped up for their rivalry game at home last week against Spring Lake and turned in their best performance of the season.
Fruitport only trailed by a point after three quarters, 20-19, before finally falling 34-19.
Rowan had his personal best game of the season, leading the Trojan defense with six tackles.
“Honestly it was the team together,” he said. “The energy was crazy before that game, even at school. Everybody was talking about the game and hyping each other up.
“Everybody – the coaches, the ball boys, the JV kids – everybody wanted it. That was a game that was ours to take.”
Despite the disappointment of the final score, Rowan was happy that he played well.
“I was locked in the whole game,” he said. “I was focused. I knew my assignments and I was doing my job.
“Our coach said we played one of our best games of the year, and everyone agreed. We should have had that game, but it just didn’t go our way.”
Now the Trojans are preparing for their final game of the season, a tough assignment on the road on Friday against undefeated Grand Rapids West Catholic.
Rowan and his teammates have been out on the practice field again this week, preparing like it’s the season opener.
“It’s been a tough season, but we have stuck by each other the whole time,” said Rowan, who will wrestle again this winter, then plans to join the U.S. Marines after graduation. “We never give up, no matter what the record. We bring the juice every day at practice, especially the seniors. This is all we have left.”
The reality that football will soon be in the rear-view mirror is not lost on Rowan, and he’s getting everything he can out of his last week.
He said he’s proud of the work all the seniors have put in and thinks they have made a positive contribution to the program.
“Integrity-wise, and when it comes to doing the right thing, being leaders and working hard, I know the seniors have definitely left a mark, and all of that rubs off on the underclassmen,” he said.