Humans of Harker: Touchdowns on the game of life

From sports to spirit, Rohan Varma fosters human connections


Sabrina Zhu

“Playing football, being a DECA mentor and leading spirit rallies … I always had a lot of fun doing it, but it was only around the second half of junior year to now where I’ve witnessed the impact that I’ve made not only to my friends but to the underclassmen I’ve worked with,” Rohan said. “[It’s] something that I never expected but it makes it worth it,” Rohan Varma (12) said.

Rohan Varma (‘21) laughs as he recounts the night he scored the game-tying touchdown against Lowell High School in September of last year. With no more than ten seconds left, Rohan darted between the quarterback and the outside of the opposing team. He remembers running a corner route and standing open at the end zone. With five seconds left, quarterback Vijay Vyas (‘21) threw him the football. He secured it. The crowd fell silent. Then, the piercing shriek of a whistle sliced through the silence, and 20 teammates rushed to mob him.

Rohan first started playing football in the summer before his freshman year. As a new student entering an unfamiliar high school, the football team was one of the first microcosms at Harker that Rohan grew to be a part of.

“The first thing that stuck out to me was how much of a brotherhood we were,” Rohan said. “I had never felt this kind of family outside of home before, and the bonding within our team, from things like summer talent shows to team naps and yoga sessions, made me feel like a part of the Harker community within a few days of transferring to this school.”

As a wide receiver and quarterback of the varsity football team, one of the aspects Rohan most enjoys about football is route running. Dedicating hours every season to practicing and perfecting hundreds of different possible patterns has allowed Rohan to shine on the field.

“The fluidity of your hips and cutting and changing and throwing around your weight, I think it’s an art,” Rohan said. “Getting in and out of your routes, it’s my favorite part of being a receiver.”

Yet, Rohan’s many successes and positive experiences in football did not come without obstacles. After breaking his ankle in his sophomore year, Rohan was unable to participate for the remainder of the football season that year. This misfortune in football, however, led to an unassuming opportunity in the form of DECA. With extra time on his hands, Rohan was able to branch out into various activities that he had never participated in before.

“Up until then, everything I did in my life was centered around sports. I didn’t really do anything outside of that with my time,” Rohan said. “Joining DECA not only pushed me down a potential career path and showed me something that I really fell in love with, but it also allowed me to diversify my interests and build my speaking skills and my confidence. That’s something that I’m super grateful for and that I wouldn’t have without [DECA].”

For Rohan, the most gratifying aspect of DECA is the human connection he is able to foster not only when selling ideas to a judge at conferences, but also when connecting with underclassmen as a DECA mentor and officer. One of Rohan’s favorite memories of DECA was when a mentee that he had been helping over the course of the year won first place out of 140 other students.

“I remember the scene after. We’re all cheering for him, I go out and he sees me and comes sprinting after me and gives me a big hug,” Rohan said. “That’s one of my favorite memories because it’s not me winning, but the vicarious joy I got out of watching him succeed made me grateful and happy.”

Rohan’s guidance also appears in his personal interactions with his friends as well. Close friend and football teammate Pranav Varmaraja (12) appreciates Rohan’s gregarious, affable nature.

“He’s a great guy to talk to. I admire how much he knows about things in general and how he applies that to help people,” Pranav said. “As a friend of his, I can go up to him and ask him about anything that I want to if I need help with something.”

Close friend Lisa Barooah (‘21) also emphasizes Rohan’s caring personality. Lisa recalls the help Rohan offered her when she tore her ACL in her junior year and had trouble walking.

“I was on crutches, and I couldn’t really move, and he is always someone who helps other people out so he would make sure that my ACL was functional and walk with me,” Lisa said.

This same compassion led Rohan to join the spirit team. Just as football was a family for him upon his first days at Harker, spirit rallies also helped him assimilate to the new school environment.

“There’s always something about being in the middle of a spirit rally with your whole class. Seeing everyone decked out in white and yelling and screaming their lungs out, there’s this energy that fuels me and is something that I really love,” Rohan said. “Being part of one of those big spirit rallies made me feel at home, and I wanted to help bring that to as many people as I could.”

As the vice president of athletic affairs in his junior year, Rohan worked to combine his passion for sports and spirit, from planning the homecoming rally—one of his favorite spirit events—to honoring fellow student-athletes through interviews at school meetings. One of the projects that he worked with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) on last year was bringing a flag football tournament back to spring spirit events, but it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Football coach Loren Powers, who was one of the people who helped Rohan with planning the flag football tournament, admires his open-mindedness and greatly respects his growth mindset. Witnessing Rohan’s physical and mental growth over the past ten months, Powers recounts Rohan’s leadership on the football team during one practice in Rohan’s junior year.

“He was vocal and he led by example. He listened to his coaches and he did things to get the best out of his teammates and himself. Those are some of the things that as a coach, you take note of and you admire because that helps your program,” Powers said. “When I have someone like Rohan that can set a standard of wide receiver, what he passes down to the next wide receiver is that example.”

Ultimately, regardless of what community Rohan is a part of, he strives to bring his mentorship and nurture positive interactions in order to create a meaningful impact in his environment.

“Playing football, being a DECA mentor and leading spirit rallies, it was always a lot of fun for me, and I always had a lot of fun doing it, but it was only around the second half of junior year to now where I’ve really witnessed the impact that I’ve made not only to my friends but to the underclassmen I’ve worked with,” Rohan said. “The impact I’ve left on making the school a better place is something that I never expected but it makes it worth it.”