France native Louis Ricard reflects on GVSU, rugby career
A lot has happened in my 22 years, but I never imagined I’d actually be writing a column about my college experience here at Grand Valley State University. From Paris to southern France to Troy and, eventually, to Allendale.
Not the ideal location, but the ideal school.
When I came back to France after my exchange-student year as a senior in Troy, Michigan, I realized that my American dream had only been momentarily interrupted. I needed to find a way back to the U.S., where I truly belonged.
I applied to one school: GVSU. I didn't hesitate one second, knowing I was meant to be a Laker (with a name like mine, how could I not?). After a long wait, I finally heard back from GVSU in the form of an acceptance letter for the fall of 2014.
A few student loans and a visa application later, I eventually came back "home."
Like most first-year students, anxiety kicked in when it was time for me to move into my closet-sized dorm in the Robinson Living Center. Knowing only a few former Troy students attending GVSU, I anticipated my first couple of weeks would be rough, but the school had other plans for me.
After my first week on campus, GVSU club rugby reached out to me and showed me what it meant to be a college student in this country.
The guys never left each other’s side, always hanging out with each other on and off the field. We never lacked things to do between practices, games and social events. Within the first two weeks, not only had I met more than 30 people, but I had created 30 new friendships that are still strong to this day.
As a freshman, I went with my brothers to Virginia in our first Sweet Sixteen appearance on the national stage. We lost but kept our heads high and came back home knowing this was only the beginning.
The next year, we reached the same stage of the competition, this time facing No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth in a foot of snow in Des Moines, Iowa. Not only did it take me, a French man, time to adjust to the snow in Michigan, but it took me even more time to appreciate playing in it (still working on that, by the way).
We lost, not only the match, but also a lot of our teammates who graduated and moved on to bigger things than Division II rugby, their memories of the game they loved still intact.
It was not until my senior year that GVSU rugby established itself as the team to watch. We didn’t have the gear that most schools did, often showing up with Hawaiian shirts to warmups, but our will to succeed became obvious throughout the year.
We knew we had to make it count because for most of us, this was it. We won game after game, handing out team blowout losses like candy. In the rain, in the snow and even once on a sunny day, we never let our guard down, taking the fight to our opponent and qualifying for a third national stage appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.
No losing this time.
We came into the game with no intentions of going home, and after a tightly contested 80 minutes, which marked the end of the regulation time, our prop Dorian Haney scored in the final seconds, pushing us to the Elite Eight of the national tournament for the first time in our program’s history.
I remember looking at my roommates, covered head-to-toe in mud, beat down, but with a smile from ear to ear. We hugged, jumped, yelled, realizing that no one had ever done what we accomplished wearing the Laker blue.
Four years go by quickly, and if you don’t pay attention, you might miss out on the best memories of your long life. Cliché, but true.
This university gave me so much, and I can only hope to return the favor down the road, but for now I will be sailing down to Chicago to begin my graduate career at Northwestern University. It will be a healthy balance trying to represent both Laker blue and the Wildcat purple.
From Paris to southern France to Troy to Allendale to Chicago, and who knows where to next.
What I know is that the places I come from all taught me something about myself, but none taught me how to be my true self like GVSU.