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Courtesy: DJ Shafer
Balancing life and football
Courtesy: Brandon K. Scott/Huntsville Item
Release: 10/12/2012
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 Sam Houston State linebacker Eric Fieilo won't be able to play football anymore this season, but what he's doing from the sideline and off the field are much more than what is asked of the traditional student or athlete.

Ahead of being a linebacker for one of the top FCS programs in the nation, he's a father and husband first, then a 3.21 GPA criminal justice student after that, and was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy.

So when he appeared to be seriously injured in the first game of the season against Incarnate Word and had to be carted off the field, football was low on the list of priorities.

 "As I was lying there, I was like, 'man I think I'm done' you know," Fieilo said. "Then I just said a little prayer, a few simple words: God please help me."

Fieilo said he thought he was paralyzed, because at the moment, he could only move his head. The injury was the first thing Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz addressed at the postgame press conference. Fritz said that Fieilo would be fine, but no one really knew how bad it was.

Fieilo had been motionless on the field for a while before he was carted off. His wife Mele hopped over the bleachers and ran onto the field when she heard coaches yell "Beauchamp in." Jesse Beauchamp is Fieilo's backup, now filling his spot, but Mele also saw her husband wasn't moving, so she prayed just as Eric had done.

It's a popular concept for spiritual, religious people that "when prayers go up, blessings come down." Not only that, but Fieilo lives by a scripture that says anything is possible through God's will.

Sure enough, Fieilo said not long after his prayer, the feeling came back in the rest of his body. He doesn't believe he would be walking without that prayer.

And whether he would be or not, the faith Fieilo puts in the idea that everything happens for a reason - that God's plan never fails - is what makes him perfect for the challenge that faced him once his diagnosis came in.

Fieilo had a slipped disc in his vertebrae, which needed to be removed and replaced. Surgery required doctors to take a bone from Fieilo's hip to replace the slipped disc, leaving a scar on his neck and his side. A couple of weeks have passed since the surgery and Fieilo, a high-motor linebacker who throws around grown men on Saturdays, still has to be extra careful when picking up his one-year old daughter.

He can't run, or lift weights. Due to the surgery, Fieilo can barely turn his head to someone calling his name. It's going to be a long road to recovery for Fieilo, who was second on the team in tackles for loss in the Bearkats' 14-1 2011 season.

"I just looked at it like, you know, it happened to me so I'm just going to take it and go on," Fieilo said. "But after the coaches talked to me about it, they were commending me on how I'm taking it. But I knew everything was going to happen for a good reason. Maybe this is just a different route for me in my life.

"It's like when you're going on the freeway and see a construction zone, you have to take a detour. I'm not mad that it happened and I'm not sad that it happened. God has his reasons and a plan and a future for you. This could've been worse."

Fieilo hopes to be back on the field next season, but for right now, his role is being played on the sideline as an observer of the game. It's supposed to take three months for the bone in his neck to heal. He meets the criteria to receive a hardship waiver from the NCAA, but that process to gain another year of eligibility won't begin until the season is over.  

"Really now, observing from the sideline instead of on the field, I just look at everything from a coach's perspective," Fieilo said. "I just try to do as much as I can to help out the team, even though I'm not on the field. I try to help out calling the plays, signaling the plays to the guys that are on the field.

"I'm just trying to pay my dues, even though I'm not playing."

Mele is always worried about Eric playing football, especially considering his sometimes reckless style of play.

"I don't even cheer in the stands. I'm paranoid, on the edge of my seat all the time," Mele said. "I don't even cheer. He plays recklessly. I try to tell him to just be careful, but he's too head strong."

Fieilo doesn't leave anything on the field. That's the way the kids at Euless Trinity High School were taught growing up.

Something else Fieilo learned growing up: what it meant to work, not for money, but simply because work needed to be done.

Fieilo was punching the clock long before Child Labor Laws would've approved it.

"I just worked for love, for my family," Fieilo said. "My dad, he's a landscaper, so I started working with my dad doing landscaping when I was 7-years-old. I had nothing in mind as far as getting paid, I was just helping my dad since he was the only one working in the family."

Fieilo is the youngest of three brothers, and the older two were playing football when Eric was a young child. When the older brothers were practicing, Eric, at the age of seven, had the presence of mind to think, 'I'm not doing anything, I might as well help my dad.'

Now his schedule looks like this: class from 8 a.m. to 1:50 p.m., and football meeting and practice from 2:15 to 6 p.m. After nearly a two-hour break, in which he spends time with his family, it's on to his part-time job working foot patrol at the University Police Department from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Fieilo said he probably doesn't fall asleep until about 4 a.m., leaving him with half of the eight hours of recommended sleep. But this is custom for the Fieilo bloodline.

"Working with my dad taught me a lot," Fieilo continued. "It taught me how to take care of business. Just different aspects of life. I want to say I matured quickly, just taking care of responsibilities at a young age really helped me for where I'm at right now, taking care of my family."

Faith, family and football - in that order. That is Eric Fieilo. And as much as he loves football, unsure on exactly when he'll return to the field, the priorities are certainly in check.

"I've just been taking care of business like my dad taught me."

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