Keep God first, work for everything that you want, and your word is your bond. Those are the three principles that were instilled in Aaron Rouse at a young age by his grandfather, a U.S. Army veteran. He held these principles true to himself while growing up as a blossoming football player, and they are the same ones he keeps close to his heart in a new dimension in the political realm today.
Rouse, the former Virginia Tech football player from 2002 through 2006, is running as an At-Large candidate for the Virginia Beach City Council, where the election is just one day away on Tuesday, November 6.
“I intend to bring new leadership, a vision for all,” Rouse said. “I want to be able to work together with our sister cities – with Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Hampton – all our sister cities. I look at it as Team Hampton Roads, and Virginia Beach needs to be the leader, the quarterback of the team. I want to bring more high-paying jobs here. I think the number one thing is to restore the trust in local government.”
It’s been an unpredictable and even unbelievable journey to where Rouse is now. During his childhood, Rouse’s mother was constantly working jobs, and his father was and still is incarcerated. Rouse’s grandmother, who provided many of the family needs, passed away at the young age of 49 from breast cancer. Rouse was forced to mature at a young age with the advice from his grandfather.
He would wake up in the morning before school started and pump diesel in the school buses. Nights were spent working various jobs from Target to Farm Fresh to Food Lion, and even McDonald’s. In between all of that, Rouse biked to football practice, a total of about 10 miles to play the sport he loved.
“I would best describe it as God has a plan for all of us,” Rouse said. “The way I was brought up, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.
“My upbringing has allowed me to understand, especially in this political world now, that it’s about making sure everyone has a voice and a seat at the table.”
Rouse’s determination off the field lent a hand to results on the gridiron. At First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, the star-studded athlete made a name for himself. Frank Beamer was the first coach to come calling, and the rest was history.
“When Frank Beamer came down and offered me a full scholarship my junior year in high school, college wasn’t even a forethought, as I couldn’t afford it,” Rouse said. “It was more like first come, first serve for me. Once he offered me a full scholarship I took it.”
Much of Rouse’s platform today for City Council is centered around an emphasis on education, where teachers are valued, as well as first responders and the military. Without those influences inside and outside the classroom, Rouse doesn’t know if he would have made it out of his poverty-stricken community.
“Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for the teachers and certain officers within Virginia Beach, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Rouse said. “It’s because they took the time out to actually get to know me, and help me, and make sure when Frank Beamer offered me that full scholarship that I would be able to get into Virginia Tech by passing the SATs and the ACTs.”
After redshirting his first year, Rouse had a breakout redshirt freshman season at Virginia Tech. He closed the year by tallying 46 tackles and forcing one fumble while playing in all 13 games.
While fans adored his play inside Lane Stadium, there was much going on behind the scenes that the Hokies faithful didn’t know about. Rouse had a son, Isaiah, and knew he couldn’t be absent to his son like his own father. Rouse didn’t have anyone to rely or depend on growing up, and didn’t want to put Isaiah through the same circumstances that plagued himself.
“It was extremely hard,” Rouse said. “We would play a Thursday night game or a Saturday game. I would wait a couple hours after the game for traffic to die out, and then I would hop in my ‘89 Chevrolet Caprice, fill her up, and drive five and a half hours home after a full game. I would see my son and be with my family for about seven and a half hours, if that, then drive all the way back. That in itself was extremely tough and hard, but it had to be done.”
Beamer and Rouse had an agreement during the summer, too. Rouse was allowed to go home and be with Isaiah and his family, as long as he passed the summer conditioning test when he came back. Sure enough, Rouse would spend the days working concrete and the nights training to maintain tip-top football shape. He passed the conditioning test with flying colors, persevering through the barriers that existed.
The hybrid linebacker/safety finished his Virginia Tech career with 217 tackles, four forced fumbles, and five interceptions. Rouse was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. The 6-foot-4, 223-pounder played for the Packers from 2007-2009 before bouncing around with the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals because of injuries. Rouse eventually retired from football after a bad car accident, but that wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning.
Rouse began attending General Assembly meetings in Richmond and conversed with those on both sides of the aisle to understand the dynamics of politics. During this time, Rouse also returned to Friendship Village and the other communities he frequented to start book bag collections for the kids there.
“From Seatack community, Friendship Village, Twin Canal, Lake Edwards, there was so many other kids who saw, ‘Wow, he made it out from here, from poverty. He made it to college, and we’ve seen him play on TV,’” Rouse said. “I always came back and just spoke to the local elementary schools, at the high schools, and middle schools, and football camps to let the kids know that it’s all about education.
“I teamed up with local businesses here and said, ‘Hey, I’m giving away book bags. Do you want to give away supplies as well with me? Get the supplies, bring them out, and we’ll give them away together.’”
Rouse’s collaboration with local businesses prompted the idea from one of the owners that Rouse should start a non-profit organization. Fast forward to 2017, and Rouse’s House received its non-profit designation.
“The mission of Rouse’s House is to get more exposure to the outside world than they’re living,” Rouse said. “To give them a clear insight of what the business world might be like, the sports world might be like. Education is the foundation of it, so even if they were wanting to be a doctor, get them to shadow a doctor for a week or a couple days to see what that’s like.”
The passion that Rouse exhibits for Virginia Beach’s next generation of leaders fuels his candidacy today. When Rouse announced that he was running for Virginia Beach City Council earlier this March, he recounted his own past to think about the opportunities that escaped him.
“The deeper purpose [of the campaign] is to show the kids, especially where I come from, but to show the youth that life is about the relationships you build with each other,” Rouse said. “Especially where I come from where so many kids want to be athletes or rappers, that’s all fine and dandy, but it’s important that they see African-American males in a different limelight other than athletics. That they see more doctors, more lawyers, more businessmen and women, more leaders, more political figures. That way it broadens their horizon of the different things they can accomplish.”
That’s the reason why Rouse wouldn’t invite Kam Chancellor, Bruce Smith, or Michael Vick to any of his community initiatives. Instead, he brought business leaders, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and police officers as examples before the children. That’s not to say some former teammates haven’t joined the campaign along the way.
“Everybody has been supportive. From Brenden Hill to Mike Imoh to Corey Gordon to Brandon Flowers to Eddie Royal,” Rouse said. “We are more than just guys who want to come back and give supplies away. We actually care about our community, and we live in these communities. Our families still live in these communities. It’s about making sure we provide opportunities for everybody.”
Rouse has received endorsements from Governor Ralph Northam, a variety of firefighter, police department, and education organizations. He’s received the support of his former coaches, Beamer and Bud Foster. There’s even been the recent endorsement from his good friend, Pharrell Williams.
Through it all, Rouse has stayed grounded as a father with Isaiah, now 15, and his 5-year-old daughter Aaliyah.
“I’m so proud of my son,” Rouse said. “He’s been around football his whole life, and you would think he acclimated to football or wanted to play football, but my son is direct opposite. He’s really a technology guy, and I’m so proud of him. He’s really in a class of his own.”
“Aaliyah is my little princess. I’m still trying to figure out this whole father-daughter thing because I think she knows how to get anything she wants from me.”
Rouse speaks about his children with a different tone of voice, one of a father’s delight, warmth, and tenderness. He’s passing those same principles of keeping God first, working for everything that you want, and your word being your bond to Isaiah and Aaliyah, and he hopes he can use his position on the City Council to extend it far and wide to the city of Virginia Beach beginning November 6.
“The obstacles and challenges I’ve been through persevering has made me the man I am today,” Rouse said. “A man of integrity that now hopefully the people of Virginia Beach can see and vote for me.”