On every football roster the University of Rhode Island hands out this season, above the 6-foot-3 wide receivers and the 300-pound linemen, is the spot reserved for a 4-foot-2, 62-pound quarterback who’s listed as a seventh grader.
Fans and opponents might do a double take, but it’s not a mis-print.
The Rams have a new teammate.
Evan Huddon, a 13-year-old from Warwick, has been adopted by the Rams as part of a program called Team Impact, which connects children facing chronic illnesses with college sports teams.
Evan has his own jersey – No. 1 – his own locker and an open invitation to practices and games. When the Rams took their official team photo last Thursday at Meade Stadium, Evan sat in his wheelchair right by head coach Joe Trainer.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Julie Huddon, Evan’s mom, as she watched her son give high-fives and tell jokes to players milling around on the field. “We went to a party, a couple of practices. They’ve been so accepting. It’s been amazing.”
Evan was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder that occurs in about 1 in 1,000 births worldwide. Julie and her husband, Jason, found out during her pregnancy that Evan had the condition. Thirty-eight hours after he was born, he was in surgery. Evan also suffers from hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in the brain that’s often associated with spina bifida. He had a shunt implanted just a week after he was born, and it has been malfunctioned several times, necessitating more surgeries.
The conditions have kept Evan in a wheelchair all his life, but they rarely keep him from smiling.
“It’s amazing to me,” Julie said. “You see people who are so down over the littlest things. You have to find the pleasure in life, and he really does. He tries to find the good in everything. He’s a really happy kid.”
At an appointment with his pulmonologist, the Huddons found out about Team Impact. The organization facilitates a connection between children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses and athletic teams, initiating the relationship and providing support along the way.
“When his pulmonologist gave him the information, he was like, ‘Oh, that sounds really cool. When are we going to do it?’” Julie said.
The Huddons put the wheels in motion and got the plan squared away. As football season drew closer, Evan received a letter and a video inviting him to be part of the Rams.
“My face went way up,” Evan said.
He showed the video to all his friends, just in case they didn’t believe him.
“He tells everybody,” Julie said. “When they sent him his official letter and a video, he would tell his friends and then say, ‘To prove it, I’ll show you the video.’”
There was some uncertainty for his parents when they took Evan to the URI athletic complex for the first time, but it evaporated quickly. They quickly saw the softer side of a bunch of tough football players.
“For them to take him in like they do, it’s pretty special,” Julie said.
Evan officially joined the team on August 11 and will be with the Rams as much as he wants. Senior defensive end Shomari Watts was selected as a direct mentor for Evan, but all the Rams will be paying special attention to their newest teammate.
At the team’s photo day, while players mingled on the field and waited for their position group photos, Evan was right there with them. Players used their phones to take pictures with him and wheeled him around the field. He told his favorite jokes to the coaching staff.
Trainer, the head coach, pushed Evan to the bleachers for the official team photo and stayed with him throughout. He’s happy to have Evan on board and knows that the relationship goes both ways – the Rams will have an impact on Evan, but Evan will impact them too.
“We couldn't be more excited to have him as part of our family," Trainer said. "He's an incredibly engaging young guy. He's got a ton of energy, and you can tell right away he has an infectious personality."
Evan is thrilled to get the opportunity. He’s been around sports all his life. He has two older brothers, Chadd and Luke. Chadd is off to college this fall, while Luke is an athlete at Bishop Hendricken. Jason coaches track at Pilgrim High School.
Evan has seized every opportunity given to him. He plays baseball in the Little League Challengers Division, sails during the summer and has been bowling since first grade. In 2011, he was chosen to be a Children’s Miracle Network Champion and represented Hasbro Children’s Hospital at Disney World and in Washington, D.C.
Evan enjoys football with his dad.
Now he’ll get an up-close view.
“We’re coming to as many practices as we can and we’ll go to all the games,” Julie said. “We’ll go to Brown too for the big rivalry game.”
It’ll be a season to remember – and the newest Ram can’t wait for kickoff.
“Go Rhody,” he said.