Detroit — Adversity struck Clarkston running back Ian Eriksen when he least expected it. How he handled that setback helped to define the type of character he possesses.
On Labor Day, the season stopped for Eriksen. Two days earlier, Clarkston lost its opener to Rochester Adams, 12-7. During the first practice following that loss, Eriksen suffered a partial tear in his right meniscus.
He didn't pout. He didn't complain. Eriksen had surgery and a few days later he went to work in rehab. He knew the injury wouldn't end his season and he was determined to come back as strong as ever.
Eriksen, a senior, completed his comeback with an impressive performance in Clarkston's 32-14 victory over Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 state final Saturday at Ford Field.
He had 237 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. He also made a diving catch on a 30-yard pass from D.J. Zezula.
Eriksen knows defense, too. Clarkston led 12-0 when he sacked Sean Birney for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-6, forcing a C.C. punt. On the next series Eriksen scored on a 1-yard run to give Clarkston an 18-0 lead.
Back in force
The injury forced Eriksen to miss four games. He gradually worked his way back to his position as workhorse in coach Kurt Richardson's offense. In Week 8, Eriksen had 234 yards and six touchdowns on 22 carries as Clarkston defeated its top rival, Lake Orion, 49-28. The next week he had 37 carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-10 victory over Southfield.
"I had never been injured like that before," Eriksen said. "I wanted to stay positive. I started right up with strengthening and conditioning. And I started running shortly after."
There was no question he was 100 percent for the playoffs.
In last week's semifinal Eriksen recorded career highs in attempts (44), yards (355) and touchdowns (six) in a 61-26 victory over Flint Carman-Ainsworth.
Living up to expectations
Even before the season started Eriksen was determined he wouldn't be outworked. He was coming off a tremendous junior season where he led Oakland County in rushing yards (2,167) and touchdowns (34).
At 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Eriksen had made a name, and a future, for himself. He was rated by The Detroit News as the top running back entering this season. He committed to Eastern Michigan, and many predicted Eriksen would be the one to carry Clarkston to its first state championship.
In the end that's what took place, but Eriksen's journey did have its ups and downs.
"Ian was all business about it," Richardson said. "He went to therapy three nights a week. If you throw a roadblock in front of him he'll jump over it. (The injury) was a blessing in disguise."
Eriksen's teammates had his back. Junior running back Centrus Williams Jr. took Eriksen's spot and rushed for nearly 500 yards while he was out. Zezula, a junior, took more of a leadership role, and took on more responsibility as a playmaker. Zezula threw 19 touchdown passes this season and just one interception.
All the while they knew Eriksen would return and when he did the offense, the team, would be that much better. Even with a shortened season, Eriksen rushed for 1,647 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Even C.C. coach Tom Mach couldn't help but lend his praise.
"We've had a lot of good backs over the years," Mach said. "He would been a great running back in our program."