Gerald “Buddy” Rowe got two days of practice in before everything changed.
Looking back, the St. Augustine senior defensive tackle realizes he was going through the motions. But after learning he possibly couldn’t play football anymore and then getting a a second chance three weeks later, Rowe has a new outlook.
“Everyone doesn’t always get this opportunity. You don’t always get this opportunity. You have to make the most of it,” Rowe said.
Rowe’s coaches and teammates hope he does. They rallied around him after he went to the hospital with severe chest pains on Aug. 2.
He started feeling discomfort in his chest during the first day of preseason practice on Monday, July 31. Even though it was a no-contact day, he figured he must have gotten hit. The next day the pain was worse. On Wednesday, the pain was so bad it woke him out of his sleep, and he asked his mother to take him to the hospital.
After several tests, he was transferred to Wolfson Children’s Hospital and was told he has an enlarged heart, and may not be able to play football again.
“I cried,” said Latasha Rowe, Buddy’s mother. “I worried about his not being able to play football, because that’s what he loves.”
He was told to come back for another stress test on Aug. 24, and that would probably determine his football future.
In the mean time, Rowe was heartened by the support of his friends, family, teammates, coaches, teachers and even people in the community he did not know.
“Everyone found a way to reach out to me,” he said. “At our Community Day (on Aug. 5, a day after he was released from Wolfson), I walked out on the field during the scrimmage and I got hugs from everyone. Everyone swarmed around me, telling me everything would be all right.”
Head coach Brian Braddock was optimistic after talking to Yellow Jackets trainer Andrew Crews and orthopedic surgeon Tod Northrup.
“They said there was a litany of explanations of why he was feeling the way he did,” Braddock said. “But it was kind of a shock (to hear the news). He’s a great kid in his senior year and he has a role he’s going to flourish in. Obviously, it was disappointing.”
Throughout the three weeks of uncertainty, Buddy and his parents kept their faith in God.
“I just put it in His hands,” Rowe said.
Rowe was not allowed to exercise for three weeks. When he came back for his appointment, he passed the test. His blood pressure and heartbeat were back to normal, he said, and the doctors cleared him to play.
“The doctor felt he was overworked a bit,” Latasha said. “It’s not a circumstance that’s life threatening. He has to know when to pull himself out (of practice and games). He’s my baby and it was scary, but I kept my faith in God. We really appreciated all the prayers from the parents and the fans of the team. When his chest started hurting I think it was God speaking to him, because we didn’t know he had a heart condition.”
Buddy’s father, Gerald Rowe Sr., also played football for the Yellow Jackets. Gerald Sr. graduated in 1995. Buddy wears the same number, 33, that his father wore.
Buddy played “a decent bit” as a linebacker last year, Braddock said. This year, after he bulked up to 260 pounds, he was moved to defensive tackle.
“At team camp (during the summer) he was pretty dominant,” Braddock said.
Now as he works his way back, he’ll be relied on to provide depth behind starting defensive tackles Cornelius Stewart and Robert Zuzu II.
“It allows you to be fresh up front,” Braddock said. “That’s a huge asset with kids of that ability.
“We’re just grateful the doctors feel confident he can play,” Braddock added. “Buddy is the type of kid who always has a smile on his face, always ready to work hard. He’s super respectful. Nobody on campus would ever have a bad word to say about Buddy Rowe.”
Rowe said it has been “three long, long weeks” for him, waiting to see if he would be cleared. On his first day back on the practice field, Monday, Rowe’s smile wouldn’t let up.
“I told everyone that I appreciate them,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in these spirits if it wasn’t for them. It makes me feel special the way everyone treated me, how they can make you feel like family even though they’re not blood.”