In a season of loss, Sidney Lanier sophomore center Juaquin Bowman is winning in the game of life.
The Poets are 0-9 heading into today’s final game of the season against Hillcrest-Evergreen, but football is helping Bowman combat his diabetes.
“It’s keeping me in shape so I can take care of my diabetes,” Bowman said. “I feel like it’s saving my life a little bit, but football is something I love to play. That’s why I play it.”
The 5-foot-11 Bowman said he’s down to 381 pounds after weighing 395 at the start of the season, but first-year Poets coach C.J. Harris believes Bowman is selling himself short on the weight loss.
“If I had to take a guess right now, I’d probably say about 60 to 70 pounds,” said Harris when asked how much weight Bowman has lost this season.
When Harris returned to his alma mater to coach and work as an athletic director, he looked past Bowman’s inability to run because something greater was at stake — a life.
“When a kid comes to you and says this is bigger than football and that this is about helping me with my problems,” Harris said. “One thing about me, I have never turned my back on a kid and never will.”
Harris wants Bowman to lose 60 pounds by the start of next season. If Bowman pushes himself the way Harris says he does, he’ll reach that mark and more importantly, continue addressing his condition in a positive way.
With November being National Diabetes Month, Bowman is showing how one can use the disease as motivation to live a better life.
“The kid now can do everything that any other kid can do,” Harris said. “One thing I admire about the kid is that he finishes everything. If we’re running 50-yard sprints, he finishes the whole 50 yards. If we’re doing a mile, he does his whole mile.”
At Monday’s practice, the underclassmen had to run laps around the school’s football field. Bowman walked some of the time, but as Harris said, he didn’t stop moving forward.
“I commend the kid,” Harris said. “The one thing he doesn’t do is quit on anything. He doesn’t complain. He comes to work every day and that’s one thing I love about the kid.”
Two days before his 12th birthday, Bowman was diagnosed with diabetes, which runs in his family. Weighing 290 pounds at the time, Bowman admitted being scared, but playing football has helped him turn that fear into focusing on bettering his health.
Bowman said he doesn’t eat fried foods, only drinks water and makes the mile or so walk to and from school every day. Bowman even checks his blood sugar at halftime by pricking his fingers.
“For a person to sit there and do what he has to do in between games, before games, after games and during the week to get himself to the point of being able to play that week? That’s true dedication,” Harris said. “You don’t find a lot of 14, 15, 16 or 17 year-old kids, or even grown men that can be responsible enough to do what they need to do to be productive.”
As much as football is helping Bowman, he learned there are more important things in life besides that. Last week, his mom, Alicia, took him off the team after he failed a class for the first nine weeks.
So that mile or so walk home from school with those cleats around his neck took on a different meaning for Bowman.
“To tell you the truth, it wasn’t a good feeling,” Bowman said. “It didn’t feel right. It felt like something was missing.”
Harris totally understood the decision Bowman’s mom made, though.
“We need more parents like her,” Harris said. “If a kid is slipping, he needs to be held accountable for his actions. I sat down and talked to her and told her about everything we have lined up from study hall to tutors to teachers willing to help the students in the study sessions to help them do what they need to do in the classroom.”
With his priorities in complete order, Bowman has dreams of making football a career.
“I just got to keep working hard,” Bowman said. “Hard work and keep my grades up.”
Harris can see that dream becoming a reality for Bowman.
“You can never tell a kid what he can’t do,” he said. “I love the kid like he’s my own son. For the things he’s been through and having to do? He’s committed to whatever he has to do, and we need more hard-working young men willing to sacrifice things.”
When a program is down, it typically takes a special graduating class to turn it around. Bowman is certain he and the rest of the sophomores can do that at Lanier.
“We really believe in the team,” Bowman said.
If the Poets can approach their future with the same vigor Bowman is treating his diabetes, they may soon find themselves on the winning side of football.
(Duane Rankin, an Advertiser sports columnist, can be reached by emailing him at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @DuaneRankin.)