Godwin Heights — For many students, getting through the daily grind of school can be a challenge during a “normal” year much less during a pandemic, when school can move quickly between in-person and online.
Even in the most challenging of times, most seniors at least want to cherish their last moments at high school: the last game, the last homecoming, the last prom.
But faced with the probability that none of that would happen — homecoming, prom and especially football — Godwin Heights senior Ru’Quan Buckley decided to double up on classes and graduate early.
“I thought to myself if there was not going to be any football, then I might as well get on with life,” Ru’Quan said. “So I went to (Godwin Heights Athletic Director) Brandon (Kimble) and said, I want to graduate early and he said they would see what they could do.”
As it turned out, Ru’Quan only needed to double up on a couple of classes in the fall semester in order to complete the 22 credits he needed to graduate. He graduated in January.
“I took an extra English class and I needed to take statistics,” Ru’Quan said.
Of course, just when Ru’Quan had everything in place, the announcement came from the Michigan High School Athletic Association that there would be a high school football season.
“It was tough,” Ru’Quan said about playing football and maintaining his expanded course load. “In the end, I think it better prepared me for college, to be able to keep up with the coursework and football.”
Born to Play
Ru’Quan was born in Three Rivers, Michigan, and moved with his family at a young age to Grand Rapids. He was introduced to football through the youth football program Kingdom Square.
“I remember someone asking me if I wanted to play and I said ‘yes’,” said Ru’Quan. In a week, he was on the field. The Kingdom Square program also was where Ru’Quan would first meet Kimble, who would be his football coach for three of the four years he played for Godwin Heights.
For Ru’Quan, the football field provided a place of peace and acceptance, because when he was on the field, everything else from the day simply just disappeared.
“It was being on the field, getting that football, running down the field,” Ru’Quan said. “It took my mind off of what was happening.”
Ru’Quan started his school career at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Martin Luther King Leadership Academy, however, the school only went up to the eighth grade, which meant that Ru’Quan needed to find a high school to finish his K-12th school career.
“Godwin was recommended to me by one of my coaches,” Ru’Quan said. “When I took a look at it, I thought it would be a good school. I thought the teachers could help me and it provided a good mix.”
He also saw potential with the football team as well starting with then Coach Carlton Brewster. “I knew they were getting better,” Ru’Quan said.
Ru’Quan’s instincts about Godwin were right. There he found support from both students and teachers.
“The teachers really cared about their students,” Ru’Quan said. “They connected and were willing to sit down and talk and help.”
There were bumps, such as a change in coach with Kimble coming in on Ru’Quan’s sophomore year, but Ru’Quan continued to excel on the field and at school.
“RuQuan has shown a tremendous amount of grit and effort during the COVID-19 pandemic to rise above the adversity to graduate early,” said Godwin Heights Principal Chad Conklin. “To accomplish this goal, he took senior level classes as a junior and worked with teachers to not only pass those classes, but to pass them earning very high marks.”
By Ru’Quan’s junior year, he had 24 offers from various colleges from around the country and everything was going well. Then came COVID in winter of 2019.
It’s a Touchdown
Like schools across the county, state and nation, Godwin Heights closed to in-person instruction in March 2020 and Ru’Quan was uncertain if he was going to be able to adapt.
“I was nervous,” Ru’Quan said. “Bad grades meant that I wouldn’t be able to go to college.”
As Conklin noted, COVD brought on many obstacles such as less teacher-student interaction, constant changes in schedules, learning how to navigate distance learning, and the list goes on and on.
“In each of these scenarios, Ru’Quan did not let the adversity overwhelm him, instead he made the most of his opportunity and leaned on his resiliency to push himself to graduate early,” Conklin said.
Ru’Quan said he just kept the goal in sight: “I knew I had to finish.”
Finish, he did, and this past January he boarded a plane to Nebraska to begin his college experience at the University of Nebraska where he will play as a defensive end for the football team. The same instinct that had him come to Godwin is what brought him to Nebraska, he said.
Ru’Quan is taking classes and practicing with the team in preparation for the fall college football season. He has decided to pursue criminal justice as his major, but truth be told, he knows where he wants to be in 10 years.
“The NFL,” Ru’Quan said. “The goal is to go all the way.”