Dec. 20, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – James Rouse was voted Marshall’s 2013 football Most Valuable Player by his teammates.
How close the defensive tackle came to not playing this season – much less getting the respect and honor of his teammates – is part of that story.
It was revealed during the Thundering Herd team banquet that Rouse – sidelined for almost two full season – plans to return for the 2014 season.
That’s only part of the story of the Harrisonburg, Va., native – he got his first undergraduate degree last spring -- as the Herd heads toward the Dec. 27 Military Bowl.
To recap, Rouse -- then a 240-pound defensive end with seven career starts -- was shelved by a back injury in the Herd’s 44-7 loss at Ohio in Week 3 of the 2011 season. He returned for spring practice in 2012, but one week before the Green-White game, on April 12, Rouse tore his left Achilles tendon.
His prospects for the 2012 season were dim.
“I tore my Achilles, and I was here at my house on crutches,” Rouse said earlier this week. “I was like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t know if I want to continue to play football. I was going to the (Edwards) stadium for the first time since I was hurt, going to rehab.
“I decided I was going to go in and tell Coach (Doc Holliday) that I was giving up football. I went out to my car to get and I looked down on the ground and I saw this blue band right at my feet.
“I picked it up, and it said, ‘REFUSE TO LOSE.’ And I was like, ‘Hmmm,’ and it made me think that there was no point in me quitting, and I should keep on trying, keep on trying. And obviously, it was worth it.”
Rouse has worn that rubber blue band every day since then. It helped sustain him through even more physical turmoil.
Last year, at midseason, Rouse seemingly was on the road back to competition for a Herd team that needed help on defense.
“The Achilles was rehabbed, and I got better, ready to come back,” Rouse said. “The day I was medically cleared, I was doing squats in the weight room and I hurt my back again (a herniated disk, the residual from the 2011 injury) and I had to have back surgery.”
He finally got back onto the field – albeit in limited fashion – this past spring. He was held out of contact as a precautionary measure. The 6-foot-5 Rouse, up to 268 pounds to play inside, finally went full bore when preseason drills opened in August.
“I saw him in the spring prior to when he tore his ACL,” Holliday said a couple of weeks ago. “He's become a dominant player … Since I've been here he's been hurt just about the entire time. He was hurt two years in a row. It's amazing for him to still have the desire to go out there and play after what he's been through.
“To come back and want to play football after all the adversity he's been through is amazing. He's been through back surgeries and Achilles surgeries. Most people that go through what he has gone through would have hung up their cleats a long time ago, but he's stuck in there. He's truly an amazing story with what he has done. He's just a wonderful kid.”
Rouse – he changed his uniform number from 92 to 11 “to get a fresh start,” he said -- became an All-Conference USA first team selection this season. He was chosen as a season captain by teammates after topping the defense with eight game captain assignments from the Herd coaches.
He admits, however, that he began the 2013 season with some doubts.
“I was worried at the beginning of the season, the first couple of games, because that’s usually when I got hurt,” said Rouse, whose 12 tackles for loss lead Marshall (which ranks in the top 10 nationally with 95). “But after those first couple of games, I stopped worrying about it, and just kept going out to play football.”
Now, he’ll be heading close to home for a Military Bowl date with Maryland in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, about a 2 1/2-hour drive from his Shenandoah Valley home in Virginia. And it won’t be his last game. He’ll return in 2014 as one of the leaders on what figures to be a talented Herd squad.
Rouse is one of four Herd players who were redshirted scholarship freshmen when Holliday arrived at MU four years ago, joining guard Alex Schooler, cornerback Monterius Lovett and defensive lineman Matt Pickett.
It’s obvious Holliday has great admiration for Rouse’s resiliency.
"He was voted MVP by his teammates, voted captain and of course was all-conference, which is just a great reward for a guy who deserves it," Holliday said. "I can't think of any guy who deserves it any more than he does, because of the adversity he's been through and the way he's fought through it and come back to have a great year for us."
Rouse can tell you the number of days between his last game of football in 2011 and his return for this season’s opener. It’s 714. He went from virtually nowhere to stardom, voted MVP by his teammates.
“That’s what feels great,” Rouse said. “I feel honored my teammates would vote me for that, that they look at me like that, and for other things. Voting me a team captain, it really feels great going from where I was a year ago to where I am now.”
Rouse said he’s “really looking forward” to another season with the Herd. He said the NFL “will always be there.” And he said this season of success with a 9-4 team has only solidified those thoughts.
“People say you only can experience college life once, so make the most of it,” Rouse said. “I’ve only played this year of football at this level and I wanted to have the chance to do it again and win a conference championship because we got close this year.”
Rouse said from rehab to reward, he has learned a lot about himself after putting that blue rubber bracelet with three words on his wrist.
“Don’t give up on your dreams,” Rouse said. “I learned that I can do whatever I want to do. Whatever I set my mind to, I can do. If I just believe that, everything else will work out for me.
“I really kind of always felt that way, but I couldn’t do it and it didn’t matter because I was always hurt. I always figured if I could somehow stay healthy, I could do what I did this year and improve on that the next year.”