Passion. Leadership. Faith. Football.
These are descriptors often heard when describing Ball State football alumni Garrett Bova, as he brings forth these qualities every day in his life.
Garrett, a multi-generational football player for the Cardinals, mentors players in the program to help them find faith in God and prepare them for the world outside of football.
Garrett, a former fullback and special teams player, was fulfilling his dream of not only playing college ball but playing for a Division I school as a true freshman. From 2003-2006, he played for the same university his mother and father graduated from.
“I'm just so thankful for the opportunity to play the sport. So thankful to God for the opportunity to play the sport, and especially to have the opportunity to play at the Division I level,” Garrett said. “I praise God for that every day. It is definitely a blessing and a privilege to have experienced that.”
Following a line in his family that goes back to 1956 when his grandfather, Gene Stroes, played for Ball State for one season before switching to wrestling full-time. The next person in Bova’s family to play at Ball State wouldn’t be until 1977 when Garrett’s dad, Ron, started to play, eventually becoming a Mid-American Conference (MAC) Champion with the rest of his teammates.
Despite an almost 30-year gap between their Ball State football playing days, there is one person Garrett and Ron have in common.
“Brady and I were recruited in the same class together,” Ron said.“[Garrett playing for Brady] reconnected us again and it was pretty awesome.”
While Garrett played for former head coach Brady Hoke all four years of his college career, Ron didn’t have the same circumstances. After Hoke was announced as coach for the Cardinals going into Garrett’s freshman year, the connection between Ron and Hoke strengthened.
While playing at Ball State was in Garrett’s blood, he wasn’t pushed into having to play for the Cardinals.
“I would never push it onto my son either. He can play [for] who he wants to play for or doesn’t even have to play football at all,” Garrett said.
Garrett is the oldest of three siblings in his household. All of them went to separate universities but still keep football as a central part of their lives. Football has always been at the heart of the family, especially to Garrett, throughout his whole life.
Now that love for football has been passed down to his daughter Lillian, 11, and son Brody, 9. In between all of his work, Garrett still spends a lot of time with his family.
“He has a full-time job, leads a ministry full time, mentors the guys at Ball State, he's a chaplain for our local fire district and the list goes on; but he loves his family first, and that is something that I am so thankful for it with him,” said Dannie Bova, Garrett’s wife and Ball State alumna.
While the family goes on many trips, the kids' favorite always tends to be to Muncie, Indiana, to watch Ball State football. The trip is the best for Brody, as he wants to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and play for Ball State in the future.
So much so, that on the top of his school papers throughout elementary school, he would put ‘Ball State 40’ instead of his name.
“That's how his teachers identified his work,” Garrett said.
Garrett’s children love Ball State trips so much due to the connection he has to the university. A connection that brought Garrett an opportunity he could not pass up.
Faith and Mentoring
Three years ago, Garrett was offered an opportunity to be a mentor at the university he played for and graduated from. Now, he is mentoring his third player, redshirt senior linebacker Cole Pearce.
This isn’t just a relationship about on-field performance, but one centered on not only finding positivity on field but finding faith off the field and after football is over.
“He’s shown me so many great things of how faith should be prioritized, especially during times of being a student-athlete,” Pearce said. “How I can use my platform to spread His light and [it is] making me more spiritually mature than I was in the past.”
When it comes to Garrett’s mentorship, he didn’t accept the role of mentoring the just football side of things; he wanted to teach them to enjoy their time while playing. He wanted to help players learn to not stress about the sport but to enjoy the privilege they were given by God.
“It's a serious sport, but we have to have fun with it. There are aspects of the sport where it is a full-time job and it can be really heavy, mentally, on you,” Garrett said.
Pearce said Garrett has mentored him in how to be a better man and what to expect in the real world after football in addition to the lessons learned through faith.
“Playing football at the Division I level can be mentally tough,” Garrett said.
Garrett is a mentor who understands that. He aims to help his mentees find joy in playing football instead of focusing on the stress.
Mentoring Garrett does not only reach the players but his own family, too. The mentoring program has given the Bova family an amazing experience and connection to the university, Dannie said.
She said when Garrett takes in a new player, they “become a part of the family” with the family rooting for them, inviting them to their house for visits and even praying for them.
Each player being mentored gets talks every week from Garrett and receives advice on faith outside of the field. But at the end of the day, all Garrett wants is for the player to experience football with joy.
“Not everybody has that opportunity,” Garrett said. “I found that playing when I want to have fun, and to experience joy in the moment and not worry about the pressure, that's when I inevitably played my best.”
Contact Mya Cataline with comments on X @mcata_20 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.