Fortin finds game, not glory, fulfilling

Nov. 19, 2004

Providence, Rhode Island - Fortin finds game, not glory, fulfilling

by Bill Reynolds '68, Providence Journal Sports Columnist

This is a football story.

But it's also about perseverance and grit. And about staying the course and paying your dues, two qualities often seen as archaic in this jingle-jangle world. Maybe most of all, it's about not giving up on your dreams, even if you once really weren't sure what they were.

It's Sean Fortin's story, and if you say you've never heard of him, well maybe that's part of the story, too.

He's been the center for the Brown football team for two years now, one of those anonymous offensive linemen who throw blocks so that others can hear cheers. One of the football faceless that all too often merely seem like individual cogs on some assembly line. The kids who play for the sheer, unadulterated love of the game, not for the glory.

He's also been one of our local college football success stories, a kid who came out of nowhere to have the kind of career no one ever thought he could have.

For he never made All-State in high school. Never was recruited by Brown. Never was a kid who received a lot of the perks that usually go along with being a high school football star. Four years ago, he was a defensive tackle for Barrington High School, and if he was good enough then to be all-league, he certainly wasn't some kid who lived in fame's little bubble. He only knew he wanted to keep playing football.

But where?

The winter after his senior football season he went to a New England football combine at Holy Cross, one of those events where prospective recruits are paraded around like show cattle. Out of that came some interest from both Wagner and Bryant. He also had a couple of informal visits at URI. But he wanted to be an engineer, and when he got into Brown, that's where he decided to go.

Football?

Football would have to take care of itself.

In the spring of 2000, he walked into coach Phil Estes' office, said he'd gotten into Brown and wanted to walk on to the football team. Estes said he'd send him a summer workout package.

So it began.

In the fall of his freshman year, there were roughly 30 kids who had been recruited for football, another four or five who were walk-ons like him. The first day, he was turned into an offensive lineman, even though he hadn't liked playing offense in high school. More important, a kid in his class who had been recruited to be a center soon quit. Presto, Fortin became a center. So what if he had never played center before? "I quickly had a couple of bad snaps and got yelled at," he says. That first year, he played center on the jayvee team.

"In the beginning, I wanted to quit every day," Fortin says. "It was so different from high school."

So why didn't he?

For there was no scholarship. No perks. There would have been no ramifications if he had. So why didn't he just say that was it and put football away on some shelf with the other childhood toys?

"I didn't want to quit," says Fortin. "It's really as simple as that. I didn't want to let everyone down. So I guess that I didn't quit because I didn't want to quit."

He played on the jayvee team again as a sophomore. Officially, he was listed as the backup center for the varsity, but never got into a game. The following spring, though, he became the starting center. He's been there ever since, missing only one play in two years, the kind of career no one could have expected back when he was in high school.

Now, it all ends Saturday afternoon for Fortin when Brown concludes its season against Columbia. The practices. The weightlifting. The offseason running. All of it. Eight years of playing competitive football reduced to one last game, the end of a career.

There now are only a dozen players left from the 35 or so who began as freshmen. The others have come and gone, names that drift off into the wind. For football is never easy, especially at Brown, where it's oh so easy to walk away.

But Fortin never did.

"And I wouldn't trade it for anything," he says. He says he will miss both the camaraderie and the feeling winning gives him, one he's never found anywhere else. For it never was about glory, or cheers, or any of the tangible rewards the rest of us see. It never even was about Saturday afternoon. Instead, it was all of it. The high school kid who wanted to keep playing. The local kid who walked on at Brown and became a two-year starter. The local kid who persevered when a lot of others didn't. The game itself.

For this is a football story.

The other things Sean Fortin brought just come with it.