Local Sports Journal
The Oakridge football program has always had the philosophy that they are a big family.
Last season James Abriatis was welcomed into that family and it seems like a good fit for both Abriatis and the Oakridge football program.
Abriatis, who transferred from South Haven prior to his junior season, was instantly taken in by his new teammates.
“I knew the Oakridge tradition and that is one of the reasons I came here,” Abriatis said. “I was accepted into the Oakridge football family right away. The guys took me right in from day one. They are really a great group of guys.”
Abriatis quickly got indoctrinated into the Oakridge system according to Oakridge head coach Cary Harger.
“We have a tire throwing drill and I asked James if he had ever done that drill before,” Harger said. “And he said coach we only won two games last season and we didn’t throw tires. I think from that point he knew how we do things here at Oakridge.”
Abriatis had varsity game experience before transferring to Oakridge as he played in several games as a sophomore running back at South Haven.
That sophomore season for the Rams was cut short after hurting the meniscus in his knee.
“I had a type of three-prong surgery on my knee,” Abriatis said. “I did the rehab myself and it felt great heading before the season started last year.”
Healthy heading into last season, Abriatis got his first taste of Oakridge football, seeing action in the backfield as both a running and blocking back.
“James was really a great fit and acclimated well from the first day,” Oakridge head coach Cary Harger said. “He brought his own skills to our backfield and really fit right in.”
After scoring his first touchdown last season for the Eagles, the 5-11, 200-pound Abriatis came into this season with bigger expectations, knowing he would have an increased work load carrying the ball, while also playing both inside and outside linebacker on defense.
“I knew coming into this season we had a great group of running backs with Dan (Shoop), Alex (Torrenga), Jerick (Wambaugh) and even Austin (Wright),” Abriatis said. “We really don’t care who carries the ball. That never was an issue as all we wanted to do was be successful.”
Abriatis has put up some impressive offensive numbers this season as he has rushed for over 400 yards with eight touchdowns, while adding over 100 yards receiving and another score.
He will be looked upon to carry an even bigger load for the Eagles’ offense in the playoffs as Dan Shoop suffered a season-ending injury in the second to last regular season game against Mason County Central.
“I think we all know that we have to step up in Dan’s absence and I am looking forward to the opportunity,” Abriatis said. “Nobody can replace Dan, but we will try. He was our leader and got us going in the summer. We all shaved No. 25 into our heads to show support for him.”
Abriatis seems ready to pick up the slack in Shoop’s absence as he rushed for 129 yards and a pair of scores against Mason County Central and closed out the regular season last week against Orchard View with three touchdowns and 99 yards rushing.
“We are going to look to James more with Dan’s injury,” Harger said. “We are confident James will step up as all our other backs will as well.”
As well as Abriatis has performed this season on the football field, it is baseball that is his real passion.
“Baseball is really my first love,” said the well-spoken Abriatis, who plays first base for the Eagles. “I want to play baseball in college. I like how competitive baseball is as it’s you and against the pitcher.”
Also a basketball player Oakridge, Abriatis hopes to put those two sports on the back burner for several more weeks in hopes of a long playoff run.
Hopefully, that starts on Friday night when the Eagles will host Newaygo in a Division 5 district semifinal game at Jack Schugars Field.
“We like our playoff draw, but we are only looking at one game at a time,” Abriatis said. “At this point we know all the teams are good and Newaygo is a good team. They have playoff experience and we will have to be ready.”