KINGSTON—The University of Rhode Island football team didn’t win a game last season and there’s no guarantee they’ll win one this time around.
Regardless of how many victories the Rams finish with on the field, the boys in Keaney Blue have already clinched a winning season.
Evan Huddon has undergone nearly twice as many surgeries as he is years old.
When the 13-year-old boy from Warwick was born he was diagnosed with Spina Bifida – when the spinal cord does not full develop – and has subsequently been bound to a wheelchair.
“It’s tough to have your son go through that,” Evan’s mother Julie says. “Some of his surgeries have not been emergent and they’ve been elective where we’ve said this will be a good move for him and we have to do it. It’s elective but not elective.
“…He has such a positive attitude about what he does that you just go in there and you know it’s going to be OK and he’s going to be OK because his attitude is so good.”
Huddon – who also suffers from Hydrocephalus, or excess fluid in the brain – is not just a brave young boy who takes a positive attitude into the many challenges he’s faced so far in his short life.
He is also the newest member of the URI Football team.
Huddon was officially introduced Sunday, August 11 as the Rams newest acquisition, a 4-foot-2 quarterback from Warwick taking jersey No. 1 according to his bio on the team’s website.
“So far it’s been amazing,” his mother says. “We just had our official draft party on Sunday and it was so overwhelming because there are so many [players] and they’re so awesome. They’re so outgoing and so polite.”
According to his mother, Evan’s journey to URI came through one of the many different specialists he sees to treat his condition.
“Evan has a lot of different specialists, he pretty much has a specialist for every part of his body,” Julie Huddon says. “We were at a pulmonology appointment and they gave us the information about Team IMPACT!, something Evan said he’d love to do.”
Team IMPACT! is a Boston based group designed to “improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses by establishing and expanding vibrant team-based support networks,” according to its website.
Once the Huddon’s elected to get involved with Team IMPACT! URI became the perfect fit, given the family’s location in Warwick and Evan’s passion for the game of football.
“They try and match children in certain areas demographically to certain teams based on where their passion lies and Evan’s a huge football fan. The fact that he’s from Warwick just right up the road it was a great fit,” URI head coach Joe Trainer says.
“When Brian McDevitt from Team IMPACT! got a hold of us in June and asked us if we’d be willing to get involved in this we jumped at the chance because I think it will be a win-win. In a culture where young people have this sense of entitlement and what’s in it for me you see a guy like [Evan] and it grounds you and kind of gives you perspective.
“We’re out here and we think this stuff is important but at the end of the day we’re not saving the world and there are other important things out there other than football.”
Trainer also had to select one player to directly mentor Huddon throughout the season and the Rams’ coach wasted little time tabbing senior Shomari Watts for the honor.
“He’s one of those guys that has an infectious personality like Evan. He transcends all the stereotypical lines that might divide people,” Trainer says.
“Very authentic, very genuine, a guy that’s kind of had his share of adversity and I say that in the most complimentary way because when you have adversity it kind of weathers you.
“It’s humbling and you’re coming at things from a different angle and he’s as genuine a guy as we have in our program and he’s got tremendous character.”
The decision of whether or not to accept the task was barely a decision at all for Watts, who was more than happy to spearhead this effort to make a difference.
“There’s not many times in your life where you can make a big impact on somebody’s life. Unfortunately Evan has a big disability that confines him to a wheelchair and with him going into seventh grade no one should have to go through that,” Watts says.
“Us doing the little things like talking to him and welcoming him to the family and joking around with him and even me e-mailing him and facetiming him back and forth is huge for him so it’s the little things that count. We’ll bend over backwards for that guy.”
Evan was back at Meade Stadium this past Thursday for team photos and to watch the smiles on players and coaches faces alike as they chatted with him showed, like their mantra for the season, they’re ‘all in’ for this cause.
Of course, Evan is not the only one to benefit from this.
For as much as he gains from hanging out with college athletes and being a part of their team, the URI players equally benefit from having him around.
“It’s definitely been great for the energy level. I was just talking about his energy level and he’s very outgoing and coming into a room of 90 guys I didn’t expect him to take it on as he did,” senior quarterback Bob Bentsen – who like Huddon is from Warwick – says.
“He was excited, he loved every minute of it and we love having him around at practice. The guys love seeing him on the sidelines so it’s great for us and great for him.
“…Nobody really realizes how much we get out of it and the lift that we get. It’s so terrible to see a kid in a wheelchair at that young age and for him to be in such great spirits is unbelievable.
“…When you’re dogging it at practice and you see him on the sideline it lifts everyone up and the energy level you can see it increase.”
For so many college programs wins and losses determine whether or not a season is a successful one and even URI is not ready for another winless season.
At the end of the day though, having someone like Evan Huddon on their team shows the Rams have a better beat on society’s pulse than most whose tunnel vision takes them straight to Saturday afternoons and past what truly matters.