French student finds success with GVSU rugby

GVL/Luke Holmes

GVL/Luke Holmes

Mason Tronsor

A young Frenchman living in the small city of Montpellier, France was about to take the biggest step in his adolescent years.

At the age of 17, Louis Ricard was a typical French high school student, living the normal life of any French teenager until the day his father introduced him to an alternative path.

“My dad sent me to an organization offering study abroad programs called AFS,” Ricard said. “He wanted me to become bilingual and go to the U.S. to learn.”

Through this application process, Ricard would have to gain acceptance from a high school and family in the U.S., a lengthy process.

After his application was submitted and processed, he found out he would be sent to Troy, Michigan. Ricard did not know what to expect from the experience at first, but things happened to work out just fine.

“I loved what happened there that year,” he said. “I had great friends, great grades and everything just was amazing.”

However, the beginning was not the prettiest marriage between the foreign exchange student and the U.S. high school. Ricard was like any other new student from outside the area — scared and nervous of meeting new people. Everything clicked, though, when he met his host family.

“Louis fit into the family immediately,” said Louis’ host mother Tracey Johansson. “He has grown into a fine young man and we adopted him into the Johansson family.”

At school, Ricard tried to fit in like a new high school student. He found friends from the school’s the football team.

“They came to me and said you are going to play for us this year,” Ricard said. “I said yes because I was scared but then we became really good friends.”

But they didn’t mean football. Ricard played rugby for Troy High School. In a land of unfamiliarity, Ricard found something he knew, having played rugby in France since he was 7 years old.

However, French rugby and U.S. rugby proved to be different experiences for Ricard. In France, he played for potential professional career goals, but in the U.S., he played more for fun and as an extracurricular activity to make friends.

After the year was up, Ricard returned to France to finish school there before he could enter a college university in the U.S., because his transcripts did not transfer.

He knew he wanted to go to college in Michigan and started applying for schools. His first two choices were the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, but the tuition cost was too high. His third choice, Oakland University, was convenient because the school was near his host family’s house in Troy. However, the cost was again too high.

Finally, all his searching brought him to Grand Valley State University.

“There were mixed feelings for me coming to the U.S.,” he said. “My family and I were never really close to each other. I kind of grew up by myself even though they did help me financially and I am thankful for that.”

When he stepped foot onto GVSU’s campus for the first time, the feeling was unfamiliar. Ricard knew the college experience was different from the high school days, and the pressure mounted.

“It was like the biggest gamble of my life,” he said. “I could have a lot of fun like I’m having right now, or I could have just hated it and didn’t know what to do from here.”

Like most freshmen, Ricard got involved on campus, especially in his classes. However, this second time around it was easier for him to adapt to U.S. school thanks to previous U.S. acclimation and English language immersion.

Classes weren’t the only thing Ricard was involving himself in on campus. As he settled into GVSU, his friends convinced him to come to a Laker rugby practice.

After one day of practice, Ricard decided to give rugby a shot at GVSU. He stuck on.

“He’s not a guy that looks into a situation and gives in to it,” said GVSU rugby coach John Mullett. “He continues to press on and do the best he can to improve the situation he is in.”

Ricard was one of the main flyhalf players for GVSU rugby as a sophomore. He describes the position as a mix between a quarterback in football and a point guard in basketball. He does more distributing than scoring, but he loves it.

“Louis works and fights for what he has twice as much as any other regular student I have met so far,” said teammate Cam Maher.

Teammates and coaches describe him as “resilient,” as he attempted to fight through an injury sustained during the season.

Looking back on his journey from his birth city of Paris, to the small city of Montpellier, all the way to Troy, Michigan and finally to Allendale, Ricard said there is nothing he would change about it.

Except maybe trying to play American football.