When Aaron Rouse was born, he didn’t open his eyes. Perhaps it was a sign that he wasn’t ready to gaze upon this wild and crazy world. Backed behind a praying mother, Nadine, and the family’s pastor, he opened his eyes a week after he was born.
Now, 34 years later, Rouse’s eyes are wide open and set on the vision ahead. On Tuesday night, Rouse won one of two seats as an At-Large candidate for Virginia Beach City Council.
His first order of celebration was embracing his mother, the woman who demonstrated sacrificial love for Rouse and his three siblings all her life. She made sure to remind Rouse of those first few moments of his life where countless blessings were poured over him.
“My mother was like, ‘We prayed over your life, and I didn’t know what you were going to do, but I knew you were going to be very special,’” Rouse said. “She just hugged me, kissed me. She said she was just so proud of me because she knows what we’ve been through and what we come from.”
(Read more about Rouse’s background HERE)
Nadine’s birthday was on Monday, but she would have to wait for her greatest gift, her son’s victory, just a day later. As any politician can testify, it didn’t come easy. There were some tense moments for Rouse as he watched the results come in on the local news like the average citizen.
Time slowly ticked by, and it reminded Rouse of another accomplishment in his life.
“It’s like draft night,” said Rouse, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2007. “You’re just waiting for your name to be called, and then you see a lead, but you know that can change because of the precincts. For the majority of the time, we kept a sizeable lead, and it kept growing.”
It was a sizeable lead, indeed. Of the six possible candidates, Rouse racked up 27 percent of the vote and nearly 11,000 more votes than the runner-up, a race still too close to decide for the second seat. Nine months of grueling work on the campaign trail finally paid off.
“People say, ‘Aaron, you did it.’ No, I didn’t do it. We did it,” Rouse said. “We did this together. I want the people of Virginia Beach to be proud of that.
“It takes a while to soak in because it’s like you won, but I immediately started thinking about the hard work, the meetings with all different people, all our volunteers, all the homeowners who put up yard signs, everyone.”
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Rouse wasn’t without the help of former Hokies, too. Former Virginia Tech and NFL defensive end Bruce Smith played an integral role in the campaign. It brought back memories to Rouse’s playing days when he would see Smith prowling around the sidelines and in the locker room as an alumnus.
“Bruce Smith did so much to help me,” Rouse said. “He’s a great Hokie, and I remember looking up to Bruce. He used to come into our locker room before game time, and I thought, ‘Man, that’s Bruce Smith.’ To have his help has been tremendous. I can’t say enough.”
This was hardly an oddity to see Rouse, a former NFL player, win on Tuesday. Four other former NFL players ran for office, and all four of them saw similar success. Anthony Gonzalez, Colin Allred, Clint Didier, and Napoleon Harris III each won their respective races. It’s a testament to see how football can shape and mold other capacities in an individual’s life.
“This is the power of sports,” Rouse said. “Sports teaches you to work with other people that you won’t necessarily agree with. It even goes back to just understanding that in life we are more than just athletes here. A lot of men and women are still integral parts of their communities. They give back to their communities and have this heart where they want to serve.”
Rouse has always been someone who spoke directly from the heart. Whether that was as a child growing up in Friendship Village, on the gridiron, or in this new arena in politics.
It’s why he earned the endorsement of Gov. Ralph Northam and Sen. Mark Warner. Rarely, if ever, will the state’s governor and senator endorse a local politician. It speaks volumes to Rouse’s heart being in the right place, one that wasn’t sold to a special agenda.
“The people in Virginia Beach said, ‘You ran a great campaign. You were positive,’” Rouse said. “With so much vitriol that’s going on in politics these days, they said it was refreshing to see someone running a positive campaign. ‘That’s why you got our vote because you inspired. You were about hope and you stand for something. You gave us a reason why to vote for you as opposed to why not to vote for someone else.’ That made the difference.”
Rouse isn’t letting the roots of his alma mater escape from him. He tweeted ‘UT PROSIM’ late Tuesday night, the motto of ‘That I May Serve’ has been a calling card for Virginia Tech and now for Rouse as he restores the vision to serve the city of Virginia Beach.
“Now the real work starts, and I can’t do it alone,” Rouse said. “We have to do it together.”