Conrad Rowley isn’t afraid to admit he’s had to lean on his family, his coaches and his teammates this year.
The big senior all-state offensive lineman – who coach Kelly Donohoe likes to say “is scary good” – appears to be strong on the outside with his 6-foot-4, 290-pound frame.
But after Conrad’s mother Kiers passed away May 10, 2018, after a lengthy battle with lung cancer, he has needed the love, support and friendship of his father Steve and his two sisters, his coaches and his teammates to get through this season before he heads off to play college football at Northwestern University.
“I was a mama’s boy,” Conrad said as his dog Vader jumped high into his lap, and his father smiled and nodded in agreement. “I’d come home and she was so sick, but she’d be smiling and sitting in that chair and we would talk about football and everything going on in my life – and I miss those talks.
“I miss her.”
But the love of his family, his friends and his Wildcat teammates and the coaching staff at Blue Springs – including offensive line coach Joel Page and Donohoe – helped this 18-year-old man mountain deal with the toughest thing a young man can ever experience.
“She was always there for me, and then, she was gone,” Conrad said. “And that was tough. But you know what? She was a strong woman, a great woman, and I want to be strong for her.”
So he dedicated his senior season to his mother and gave her a quiet salute by scoring his first touchdown in a 36-0 Class 6 District 2 victory over Jefferson City last Friday at Peve Stadium.
With the Wildcats leading 7-0 early in the second quarter, Donohoe called out “Conrad Iso” – a play Conrad had been anticipating all year.
“Kiers always wanted to see big ol’ Conrad score a touchdown,” Donohoe said, “and I promised her I’d get him one this season.”
So, with the ball on the 5, Conrad entered the game and took an unfamiliar place in the backfield.
“I’m used to being on the line, blocking for Aveion (Bailey) and our other backs, but I got kind of excited when Coach called my play,” Conrad explained. “I thought it was going to be from the 1 so I could just kind of dive in, but Coach called it from the 5, so I needed help – I needed some guys pushing me in and some guys opening some holes.”
No problem, as one of his best friends and longtime teammate Jack Johnson said, “Conrad was scoring on that play! No way he wasn’t getting in the end zone. We were making sure he scored that touchdown for his mom. We loved her, too, and we were getting him in the end zone.”
After the memorable touchdown, it was impossible to tell who enjoyed the play more – Donohoe, Conrad or Steve.
“I know Kiers saw it, and she is up there smiling,” Donohoe said, grinning and looking skyward. “She was a special lady, and she and Steve have done a great job raising Conrad.”
Steve Rowley, who hosted a family meal before the game, added, “That was for Kiers. Kelly visited her in the hospital and promised her he’d get Conrad in the end zone, and he always keeps his promise.
“It was pure Conrad after he scored. He didn’t make a production out of it, he just scored, got up and pointed up to his mom and then went back to the line to block for the extra point.
“That’s Conrad – a worker, a player who always puts his team and his teammates first.”
Perhaps that’s one reason Johnson and every member of the offensive line came to Conrad’s defense when he was blindsided by a Jefferson City lineman later in the game.
“That’s what we call O-line brotherhood,” Rowley said. “I wasn’t going to do anything stupid like swing at the kid. My brothers were there to defend me.”
Johnson and Co., picked Conrad up off the Peve Stadium turf as the Jeff City player was escorted out of the sports complex after his ejection.
Conrad and the 7-3 Wildcats will be playing crosstown rival Blue Springs South (3-7) in the district semifinal Friday at Peve Stadium as they seek their third straight Class 6 state championship game appearance.
But before they do, Conrad, Steve and Coach Page will meet at 6:30 a.m. game day for their weekly Waffle House feast.
“We have the greatest waitress,” Steve said, grinning from ear to ear, “we get there and our drinks are on the table and our food is cooking. There’s some great mojo with those meals and we’re not going to do anything to break the mojo.”
That mojo is based in love – the type of love between a father and son that is quiet and strong – just like Conrad.