Near-death survivors and spitfire preachers may tell you to run toward the light, that illumination leads to redemption.
But when Jordan Gowins was at the bottom of a pool, there was only darkness. It was June 28, 2007 and the 10-year-old boy lay unconscious in the depths a friend’s pool for nearly five minutes before being saved.
“I was deep, as deep as you could get,” Gowins recalled.
Gowins spent weeks in ICU and many doubted he would ever walk, let alone follow in the footsteps of his more famous sibling. One day after his baby brother nearly died, Bellport’s Edwin Gowins Jr. wrapped up one of the more memorable high school careers in Long Island football history with a pair of touchdowns in the Empire Challenge.
Young Jordan Gowins had no illusions of grandeur after his accident. He grew up watching his older brother fly past defenders on the football field in superhuman fashion. Now Jordan merely wanted to stand on his own two feet.
“I was in a hospital bed for a long, long time,” Jordan Gowins said. “Doctors realized I couldn’t even walk anymore. I had to learn how to walk. I should have been paralyzed from the waist down. I learned how to walk all over again.”
That seems so long ago. Jordan Gowins can run and leap like a track star. Just ask the rest of the Catholic league. Gowins, a 5-foot-11, 206-pound junior running back at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, has rushed for 999 yards and 13 touchdowns to help the Friars to a 5-1 start.
“His talent is off the charts,” St. Anthony’s Coach Rich Reichert said. “But I like the 6- and 7-yard runs when he’s just pounding guys. Those to me are the runs that change the defense. The kids can’t stop him.”
He’s got a rare combination of power and speed, a bulldozer with legs one minute and the ability to chase daylight the next. Reichert compared Gowins to a pair of former All-Long Island St. Anthony’s running backs: Tony Williams (Wisconsin) and Matt Hahn (Penn State).
But what Gowins sees is Gowins.
“When I see him run he looks exactly like me,” said Edwin Gowins Jr., now 24 and still training and hoping for a pro tryout.
Gowins rushed for 1,996 yards and 34 TDs en route to being named Suffolk player of the year in 2006. At Stony Brook University from 2008-10, the Bellport star had the two best single-game rushing performances in the school’s Division I history and finished with career rushing average of 7.5 yards per carry.
Today the elder Gowins sits in the bleachers at every St. Anthony’s football game and evaluates his protégé. He instructs his brother to hold the ball more securely and to be his own man.
“When I was playing ball, I had a lot of people in my ear telling me things,” Edwin Gowins said. “It pulled me in different directions. It made me confused. One of the things I tell him is ‘Follow your heart. Do what you think is right. Don’t listen to what anyone tells you.’”
Jordan Gowins followed his mom’s heart when he spurned Bellport High School for St. Anthony’s. It was a controversial decision in a town where football is life.
Gowins didn’t see the light then either. He was merely running away from the darkness.
“I go running in my town. I go jogging almost every day,” said Gowins, whose path through North Bellport takes him past memorials to fallen teens. “I see kids playing sports. They are playing basketball. They are throwing the football around. These are kids I know have a lot of potential because I went to school with them at one point. They have talent. But it’s hard for them to get through what they are living through. Either their parents aren’t as supportive as mine or they don’t see a way out."
Bellport’s grade-fixing scandal was the clincher for mom Patrina Cousin. Iconic football coach turned superintendent Joe Cipp Jr. eventually resigned after it was found he tried to get a star athlete’s grades changed so the lineman could play at Syracuse.
“My mom – before she even talks about football – is about school. It’s about school,” Gowins said. “She saw those things going on. She wanted to make sure I was focused and that my grades couldn’t be altered. She wanted me to earn what I have.”
So Gowins makes the trek to St. Anthony’s each day, far from his comfort zone and childhood friends. But the journey is bringing him closer to realizing his college ambitions.
Clemson and FSU recently expressed interest in his football talents. He’s beginning to see the light.
“I think it took him a while to get used to us,” Reichert said. “We weren’t going to baby him. I told him from Day 1, ‘We know you are a good football player. Now we’re going to make sure you’re a good person.’
“He’s starting to see the big picture. Colleges are looking at character too. It’s not just talent.”
Jordan Gowins has a supportive family and a healthy outlook. He’s in a good place. Now he’s coming into his own on the field too.
“When I’m on the field, I’m as comfortable as I’ve ever been,” Gowins said. “It’s like I’m home in my bed sleeping. It’s something I’m doing without thinking now. I’m just playing football without any second thoughts.”
Gowins’ ultimate destination has yet to be written. The path is still shrouded in mystery. Just know this: He’ll get there on his own two feet.
Editor's Note: This is Regional Editor Jason Molinet's final story. He is leaving after three years at Patch.