April 11, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Ever have one of those dreams that leaves you wearing a special smile all day?
Rand Rowland might say he’s had one of those dreams and worn that smile for the four years he’s attended Georgia Tech.
“There have just been so many incredible experiences. In the rough seasons and the good seasons, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “Just being in the community for four years, noticing how special of a place this is, from an academic standpoint, from an athletic standpoint, this is a really incredible group of people to be a part of and to learn from. I love the fact that our fight song is one of the most well-known around the country. The tradition of everything is awesome to me.”
He showed how much it meant with his unmatched enthusiasm during the basketball team’s victory lap around McCamish Pavilion to that fight song after wins.
Yet Rowland’s route to getting to take four year’s worth of laps for the Yellow Jackets is about as untraditional as it gets.
A four-sport athlete at White County High School in Cleveland, Ga., (basketball, golf, tennis and cross country), Rowland was not recruited but knew he was going to go to Georgia Tech, as did his cousin, Jeff, who played baseball on The Flats, and older brother, Scott, Class of 2013. He also knew he wanted to coach someday. So he talked with Tech’s coaching staff. They told him to show up at open gym. He did that. And he kept showing up.
One day during the summer, while shooting at the Campus Recreation Center, he saw then-head coach Brian Gregory running a camp.
“Coach Gregory comes over and said, `We’ve got a workout in the gym in 15 minutes. You better beat me over there,'” Rowland recalled, with a laugh. “So I ran outside, got on the trolley and ended up being over there. I was just able to watch at first, then I got medically cleared and they were like, `Well, kid, you can participate in a workout.’ They kept telling me to come back. It was funny because there was never a moment where they were like, `Congratulations, you’re part of the Georgia Tech men’s basketball Program.’ They just kept telling me to come back. Then, picture day they said, `Here’s a jersey.’ It’s a jersey with my name on it. I was like, `Okay, I guess I’m part of the team.'”
Rowland got another surprise on Jan. 7, 2017, prior to Tech’s game against Louisville, when head coach Josh Pastner added to his pregame talk that Rowland had been granted a scholarship for his final semester.
“I just remember trying to hold all the emotion in. I was like, `I almost feel like crying right now, but I CAN’T. We’re about to play a game!'” he recalled, with a laugh. “Seeing the reaction of my teammates was really special … just how excited they all got. Some of the coaches came up afterward and shook my hand and said, `Congratulations. You’ve EARNED it.’ Then after the game, being able to call my mom and dad and tell them, hearing their reaction I think was the best part.
“When the coaches shook my hand and said, `You’ve EARNED it.’ That was a huge, huge moment for me,” he added. “There were plenty of days as a freshman where I was like, `I don’t know if I belong here. I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.’ When you’re being yelled at by a coach for making the same mistake or when you don’t feel like socially you fit in with the team, stuff like that, and I’m just like, `Okay, maybe this was a BAD idea. Maybe I should just be a regular student.’ To go from that to now, I feel so confident helping other guys out and being involved in the team and wanting to stick around this world and coach and learn even more. To represent Georgia Tech is a special thing. I saw it as a privilege.”
It was a privilege to which he was immediately welcomed by his new family.
“I remember the first morning after workouts I went to the dining hall and I was sitting there thinking, `I don’t know if I can sit with them or not,'” he recalled. “So I’m sitting on other end of the dining hall just eating by myself and one of the guys stood up and looked at me like, `What are you doing over there?’ and came over to the table and got me and had me sit and eat with them. The team really welcomed me and that made a huge difference.”
Difference-making begot difference-making, as Rowland did that his entire career, primarily in the community. He joined the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) at the behest of then-team representative Aaron Peek and volunteered to attend the ACC student-athlete advisory board meeting in Greensboro, N.C., even before attending a meeting on campus.
Rand has worked with the VOICE Program and the “Escalation Workshop,” which helps educate and raise awareness about relationship violence. He’s also helped make reality Project Life Movement, a national movement to increase the potential pool of bone marrow and tissue donors, and has volunteered on behalf of Ronald McDonald House, the Girls on the Run Spring 5K, and one of his favorite initiatives, the Michael Isenhour Toy Drive. His involvement in the community and with SAAB — he’s passed that torch on to current Jackets Norman Harris and Shaheed Medlock — led to his being one of 10 players nationally to be named to the Allstate NABC Goodworks Team. He was saluted at the Final Four in Phoenix, Ariz., during the national semifinal between North Carolina and Oregon.
Even during a moment of personal glory, Rowland’s thoughts were with Georgia Tech, his teammates and the entire student body.
“It was incredible just to be at the Final Four,” he said. “Parts of it were a little bittersweet because I had always wanted us to be there as a team, still competing. In terms of the recognition, I really thought it was a credit to the whole Georgia Tech student-athlete body, because the things I was nominated for the award for, the Escalation Workshop and Project Life Movement Drive, there were PLENTY of other athletes that jumped in to make it happen. So I think it just goes to show how great the whole student-athlete body here is at chipping in and giving back. But to be at the Final Four, to have my mom there, and just to stand on the court in front of 80,000 people is crazy.”
The craziness may not be over.
Rowland’s first step into the real world — he’ll receive his degree in business administration on May 6 at spring commencement — might be considered a step into the unreal world for anyone else, as he’ll try his hand at Australian Rules Football.
This opportunity knocked while Georgia Tech was in New York for the NIT Final Four. Rand got a call from DraftExpress.com founder Jonathan Givony, who doubles as a scout for the Australian Football League. Givony felt Rowland, an athletic 6-7, 201, would be perfect to play “ruckman,” a position that challenges for jump-ball situations.
Rand will get an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for the AFL’s “Combine” at the end of April to be held on UCLA’s campus.
“At first I was like, `Okay, what did I get myself into?'” he said, with a laugh. “But I saw some video, did some research on it, talked to (Givony). It’s a full-fledged combine. Apparently, it’s a big deal over there. As an athlete you always want to be an athlete and so it’s an opportunity to keep doing that. I don’t know what’s going to come out of it but I’m pretty excited to give it my best effort and see what happens.”
Australia gave Georgia Tech and the NFL Adam Gotsis. Maybe Georgia Tech and the U.S. can return the favor to the AFL with Rand Rowland.
“I have NO idea where it came from, but I’m excited where it might go,” he said. “My goal is to get into coaching. Right now I’d say basketball but if I go play Australian Football and end up coaching Australian Football then that’s that. To me it’s more about being a part of a team and the mentoring of younger guys and just having something to compete for and be a part of a group that’s working toward something. That’s what I get out of it. So I hope to be a coach at whatever level in whatever sport in whatever country, I want to be a coach and continue to compete and just be a part of that team atmosphere.
“You know what they say, `If you’re young and you get a chance to go see the world go do it,’ I think it’s at least worth exploring and we’ll see what happens.”