Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Sports Person of the Week

Araujo Ready to Have Big Senior Season


Running back Eric Araujo has been bitten by the injury bug several times, but feels happy and healthy as he gets ready to lead the East Haven football team as a senior this year. Photo courtesy of Eric Araujo

Running back Eric Araujo has been bitten by the injury bug several times, but feels happy and healthy as he gets ready to lead the East Haven football team as a senior this year. (Photo courtesy of Eric Araujo )

Eric Araujo has had to deal with a variety of injuries throughout his football career, but he’s battled past the setbacks and is looking forward to a productive senior season with the East Haven football team.

Eric was slated to be the backup running back for the Yellowjackets’ varsity squad as a freshman before suffering a serious injury that put both his season and his entire career in jeopardy. During a preseason practice, Eric took a handoff and collided with two defenders, tearing the ligament between his right tibia and fibula. Eric had to undergo surgery to place two screws in the leg and, because he had already broken 20 bones playing football prior to this injury, his parents encouraged him to consider quitting the sport.

However, Eric was determined to get back on the football field. He rehabilitated his injury throughout the season and then visited his doctor right before East Haven’s Thanksgiving matchup against Branford. After undergoing a final surgery to remove the screws from his leg, Eric asked his doctor if he could play. Eric’s doctor said the decision was up to him and that was “all I needed to hear.” Eric was in uniform for the Branford game and had long kickoff return that nearly went for a touchdown.

“I played with the same team from 4th grade up. I never tried to let anybody down. Even though it was just a football game and my health and body means more than that, to me, the game meant more,” Eric says. “I wanted to do everything I could to get our team on track and become a winning team. It just pushed me so much more.”

Eric started playing flag football in East Haven at age three. Eric’s older brothers—Ricky, Kenny, and Jacob—were all football players, and he wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Ricky and Jacob went on to play football at East Haven. When Eric returned versus Branford, then-head coach, the late Melvin Wells, put Eric and Jacob in the game together, and the public-address announcer followed by saying, “the Araujo brothers in the backfield.” It was a moment that Eric describes as the best feeling in the world.

“I was lucky to have three older brothers that were just as active as me. We were always outside playing football. We were always passing the ball with my dad. It just made me enjoy the sport so much more. I just kept going with it,” says Eric. “We used to set up cones and work on our cuts and make our moves nice. We tried to perfect every step that we had that we knew we were going to use in a football game.”

Eric moved on to tackle football in the 3rd grade. Eric’s parents held him back a year and he always played up, meaning that he was competing against 6th-graders by the time he was in 4th grade. Eric says that facing older competition helped him learn the game at a quicker pace.

As Eric entered 5th grade, he experienced a setback that he considers far worse than any of his injuries. Eric’s grandmother Maria, who was one of his biggest support systems, passed away that year. Eric actually considered quitting football, but ultimately decided to stick with the sport. Now, whenever he’s on the field, Eric is playing in honor of his grandma.

“That was the only time I struggled with football. She was always there watching the games. Everybody called her grandma. Everybody knew her,” Eric says. “When she passed, I was going into 5th grade, and I honestly wanted to stop playing football. The only reason I played football was because she was always there. But now I play football in memory of her and do everything I do for her. I miss her so much every day.”

Following the ups and downs of his freshman year, Eric entered his sophomore season with a clean bill of health and was now playing for new coach Scott Benoit. Eric spent a good portion of the year at the JV level, but did see some varsity time during the season, scoring a touchdown in a game against Sheehan.

In his junior campaign, Eric became one of East Haven’s starting running backs alongside Alex Duarte and Mike Castellano. The trio would split reps with each tailback coming off the field after a run. Even while sharing the ball-carrying duties, Eric still scored eight touchdowns and helped the Yellowjackets go 7-3 for the second-straight year.

When he first met Eric, Coach Benoit pulled him aside during practice and told him that he was “born for this sport.” That was the first time Eric heard that from anyone besides his parents. Now, as Eric enters his senior season, Benoit believes that statement more than ever and calls Eric the most naturally gifted running back on the team.

“Eric is a great kid. He is extremely talented. He is a natural with the ball in his hands,” Benoit says. “Last year as a junior, Eric burst onto the scene and led our team in rushing. He has great vision, good speed, he’s powerful. He’s in for a big senior season for sure.”

Eric has a goal of rushing for 100 yards in every game this year. He would also like to lead the Yellowjackets as a captain. Coach Benoit has already named Duarte and fellow senior Trey Garea as team captains, but has discussed adding a third one, and Eric would certainly love to hold that role. Still, regardless of whether he has that title, Eric plans on being a leader during his final season with the Easties.

“Coach is always talking about how he is waiting to see who the third captain is. I’m pushing for this season. It’s my senior season. I want to lead the team,” says Eric. “I told Trey and Alex that no matter if I become captain or not, I got their back, and I’m going to help them lead the team.”

Eric is hoping to play football in college after he graduates from East Haven. Eric says that, “as long as it has a football team,” that he would attend any school that offers a scholarship to him. Eric also plans on continuing to work for AD Landscaping and Construction, a company he started with his brother Jacob and cousin Alex.

Football has been much more than a sport to Eric for a long time. He’s has used football as a way to both connect with his family and cope with loss. Eric calls the football field his “safe zone” and is excited to get back out there on the gridiron to do what he loves one last time in East Haven.

“I went through a lot when I was younger, with my grandma passing away. But there was nothing better than walking onto the field with all the fans around and knowing that I’m playing for my hometown,” Eric says. “These past two years, we’ve been playing really well. Everybody knows who East Haven is now. Right now, I’m just focused on playing football. It has been there for me my whole life.”

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