Linebacker Eric Fieilo stands as one of the top three tacklers on a defense that has helped Sam Houston State earn a No. 2 national FCS ranking this fall.
Through six games, the senior from Trinity High School in Euless has totaled 40 tackles including 22 solo stops, two tackles for losses and an interception of a pass from Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
But Fieilo is not concerned about his numbers. He is full of gratitude and happiness just to be able to run out on to the football field.
Fieilo suffered a neck injury in his team’s first game of the 2012 season. At first, as he lay on the field, Fieilo thought he was paralyzed.
“The crowd just went quiet, and I was out there for about 10 minutes, motionless,” Fieilo told the Fort Worth Star Telegram in a recent interview . “I was scared for about five seconds. I was moving my head, but they were telling me to move my hands or my feet, and I couldn’t. But I knew I was in God’s hands. I said a short prayer, ‘God, please help me.’ After that, the motion started coming back, first in my fingers and then like a domino effect to the rest of my body.”
Fieilo’s wife Mele hopped over the bleachers and ran onto the field when she heard coaches yell “Beauchamp in." Jesse Beauchamp was Fieilo's backup. Mele saw her husband wasn't moving, so she prayed just as Eric had done.
Fieilo lives by a scripture that says anything is possible through God's will.
Later during the fall, doctors used bone from Fieilo’s hip to replace a slipped disc in his vertebral column. Fieilo knew he would be able to get back on the football field, but he also knew it would take a lot of work.
“The rehab process was all right. The hardest thing was going to practice every day and having to watch the guys,” Fieilo told reporters. “It made me feel bad, because I couldn’t do anything to help my team. It was more emotional for me to put my helmet back on for that first practice back than for the first game this year. Going out to practice, I felt like I was back to being a part of this team.”
Fieilo was nominated for the Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award after helping lead the Bearkats to a win against Eastern Washington.
Returning to game action in 2013 as a starter has been special.
“It feels great,” Fieilo said of his return. “A lot of guys tell me that I haven’t skipped a beat but I feel like I’m two steps behind. I need to pick it up a little bit more. But overall, I just thank God for me coming back.”
“We’re so excited about getting Eric back,” Sam Houston defensive coorindator Mike Collins said. “Any time you have that kind of injury, you never know. That’s been a real plus for us. He’s such a super football player, but he’s an even better young man than he is a football player.
Two of Fieilo’s teammates from Trinity who have followed him to Sam Houston State helped the linebacker through recovery and back into his helmet and pads — offensive lineman Richard Lolohea and defensive tackle Sione Latu, both redshirt freshmen.
“They are my little cousins,” Fieilo said. “It’s been a blessing to play with them and have them around.”
Fieilo hopes he can help his team push through for another championship win this season.
“We are going to do our best and play every game like it is our last,” he said.
Sam Houston State has two home games remaining at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium plus the 88th “Battle of the Piney Woods” Nov. 2 at Reliant Stadium. Tickets for all three games are available online now at www.gobearkats.com or at the SHSU Athletic Ticket Office open Monday through Friday.
The ticket office is located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone of Bowers Stadium. The ticket office telephone number is (936) 294-1729.