Star-crossed in Crimson

Posted: Friday, October 01, 2010

One of Juneau-Douglas' best football players has barely seen the field over the last three years.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Since starting 11 games as a freshman receiver on the 2007 state championship team, senior Eric Fagerstrom's prep career has gone from sure-fire future star to star-crossed.

Fagerstrom's older brothers, Alex and Ryan, are both in the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears Hall of Fame, and Eric was poised to surpass them both as the best - and last - of the esteemed bunch.

"When you look at him and his brothers, when Ryan was a freshman, he was playing in the Senior Division in the JYFL. And when Alex was a freshman, he was the starting quarterback for the JV team. When Eric was a freshman, he was a starting receiver for the varsity," JDHS coach Rich Sjoroos said. "Eric was on a path to surpass both of his brothers just based on how things started out.

"He just seemed a little more mature at that grade level than his older brothers."

But then came the first injury.

It originally occured when he was snowboarding and hurt his back, though he never got it checked out. Fagerstrom was coaching at a kids camp a week before varsity summer practices began. He said he then hyperextended and reinjured it. A trip to the doctor showed he had actually broken his back.

Doctors said he wasn't going to be able to play at all, but after a second opinion three months later showed the injury wasn't healing, he was cleared to play because it wasn't going to get any worse.

"I wore a back brace when I played, but (the doctor) said I could still play. It didn't feel good," Fagerstrom said of the pain. "But after missing five games, that was enough for me. I wanted to play."

He was limited to the final six games of the year and what would turn out to be the signature moment of his career. Fagerstrom scored the game-winning touchdown against South Anchorage in the state semifinals to put JDHS in its second straight championship game.

With his career seemingly back on track, the second injury struck. During the Red and White scrimmage before his junior season started, Fagerstrom broke his ankle.

"It was kind of a fluke," he said. "I didn't really get touched and I just stepped on it, and then it just broke.

"Missing half of the season before, I was ready to get back on the field," he continued. "And then the injury just wiped everything out. But I had to deal with it."

To make matters worse, Fagerstrom broke his wrist snowboarding and then wasn't able to play basketball or baseball last season.

"I tried a double back flip and it didn't go too well," Fagerstrom chuckled.

Poised to finally have that breakout season as one of the cornerstones of a high-octane spread offense, Fagerstrom scored five touchdowns in two games before it happened again, this time in Week 3.

"Everything was going great. I had five touchdowns in the first two games and that was the best I'd ever played in high school," he said. "I was pretty excited and looking forward to the rest of the year, and then I tore my ACL."

Fagerstrom said he caught a pass and turned upfield down the sideline when a player grabbed his jersey on his back shoulder, twisting him around. His foot stayed planted and he heard a pop. After being on the ground for about 30 seconds he said the pain instantly stopped and he stood up, jogged and told the coaches he was ready to go back in the game.

"They did a bunch of tests and told me I had torn my ACL, and couldn't go back in," he said. "That was the worst feeling."

Fagerstrom said thoughts of his family legacy in the annals of Juneau-Douglas football crept into his head.

"I had some big shoes to fill because (Ryan and Alex) are in the Hall of Fame and had amazing high school careers," he said. "I was working hard to try to catch up to them. It made me wonder if I was doing something wrong. It's confusing and I didn't know what was going on because I always ended up getting hurt."

Even though he's not physically able to terrorize defenses in games, Fagerstrom has continued to attend practice and help other players.

"I just do whatever I can to help out the receivers and safties, the positions that I played," he said. "Other kids have stepped up and I tell them everything that I know to help make them better as far as technique. I still want to help the team."

Fagerstom had successful surgery last week to repair his ACL and meniscus, and he hopes to resume working out "full go" in about nine months. He will then decide between junior college or a four-year school. He still has dreams to play Div. I football.

"I'm planning on playing college football. I'm not sure where yet because the whole knee thing messed up my offers with all of the schools that were looking at me," he said. "My brothers went both routes. Alex is going to a junior college in California right now, and Ryan is going to Blackhills State in South Dakota. I could go either way but it depends on what level I want to play. Of course I want to play at a D-I school, but I don't know if I want to do two years at a junior college."

Whichever route he chooses, he's set academically with a 3.7 grade-point average. Fagerstrom is interested in a possible career in dentistry after college.

Though he hasn't been able to play much these last few years, Fagerstrom's contributions off the field are not lost on the coaching staff, who appreciate everything he's given to the program. He's literally sacrificed his body for JDHS football, and he'll be missed next year after he moves on to college. It will be the end of an era, Sjoroos said.

"It's the last of the Fagerstroms unless we can get his sister geared up," he said. "I know that around the state they'll be breathing a sigh of relief knowing that there are no more Fagerstroms on the roster after this year. But it's going to be a sad time for us because it's going to be the end of an era with these kids.

"They've been playing football at the varsity level since 2003," he continued. "There's a been a Fagerstrom every year. And from 2003 to 2008, we made four state title games and six semifinal appearances in six years. Last year was the first time we didn't and well, he didn't play last year. There's something to be said about good things happening for this program when a Fagerstrom is playing football."

Though down about all of the missed games and missed opportunities, Fagerstrom said he won't let the injuries break him, and he's accepted them for shaping him into who he is.

"It's been injury-prone, but still fun at the same time," he said of his prep career. "I'm grateful for all of the games that I've gotten to play in. Those games, that's all I have. I love playing and I'm just happy for the games I've gotten."

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