‘Big man’ Ryan Eaton of Winnacunnet runs for a cause

Jul. 16—DOVER — Ryan Eaton’s favorite part about playing running back is that great feeling after a long run, knowing he helped his team.

In his final high school football game, Eaton will help Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which he has been going to since he was a year old.

Eaton, a Winnacunnet of Hampton graduate, will play for Team East in the annual CHaD East-West All-Star Game on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Saint Anselm College’s Grappone Stadium.

Proceeds from the senior all-star exhibition, which the New Hampshire Union Leader helps to sponsor, benefit CHaD.

CHaD diagnosed Eaton with hypothyroidism, a condition which can cause short stature, delayed puberty and poor mental development in children, when he was 1. Since then, he has worked with CHaD, taking medication for both hypothyroidism and eating to help him grow.

Doctors predicted that Eaton would reach about 5 feet as an adult. The 18-year-old former Warriors running back surpassed that mark his freshman year of high school and now stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds.

“It (means) a lot to me because I can help give back to the people that helped me throughout my entire life and it’s just a good chance to help the kids that are in it too, just because they’re exactly like me,” Eaton said before Team East’s practice on Thursday at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.

Eaton said he was put at running back his first year of football when he was 9 or 10 years old because of his speed. While he also played defense at the younger levels, Eaton played only running back in high school.

Fellow former Winnacunnet running back Dylan Atwood, who will also play for Team East on Saturday, started playing football with Eaton in fourth grade. Atwood described himself as a north-south power back while Eaton brought speed and surprising strength to the backfield.

“I’ve learned from him to just run your heart out because that’s what he does every play,” Atwood said of Eaton. “There will be a big linebacker coming at him and he’ll just run him over. The kid is crazy.”

Former Warriors offensive lineman David Araujo, who is also on Team East, began playing football for Winnacunnet as a sophomore and became fast friends with Eaton by joking with each other at practice. Eaton’s nickname for Araujo, who is 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, is “little man” and Araujo calls Eaton “big man.”

“I always say he runs like he’s the biggest man on the field,” Araujo said.

Eaton, who also played baseball at Winnacunnet, came up huge for the Warriors in his first varsity start as a junior, which is his favorite high school football memory. He ran for more than 100 yards, 40 of which came on his game-winning touchdown inside the final two minutes of Winnacunnet’s only win that 2019 season: a 28-21 home triumph over Dover.

“Everyone was excited for him because everyone knew he deserved it,” Atwood said of Eaton’s first start. “He gives 110% every play, every practice, every game so everyone was just very happy for him.”

Eaton was an All-Division I East offensive honorable mention as a junior and named to the first team after his senior season.

Araujo said it is nice that he, Atwood and Eaton get to play together one last time for the hospital that has greatly helped “big man.”

“I think it’s really cool that Ryan gets to be a part of this game,” Araujo said. “He’s been part of the CHaD hospital his whole entire life so it’s a really cool experience for him and us to be part of it (with him).”

Team captains chosen

Team captains were announced on Thursday. They are: Kyle Gora (Alvirne), Ben Cerrato (Exeter) and Araujo for the East, and Jarrett Henault (Goffstown), Riley Lawhorn (Souhegan), Max Ackerman (Nashua North) and Jason Compoh (Nashua South) for the West.

Team East is reserving one its captaincy slots for former Londonderry star Jake Naar. The senior was killed in a car crash in March, prior to being named a CHaD All-Star. Naar will be memorialized with a jersey patch to be worn by both teams.

ahall@unionleader.com

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