Leader of the pack

Yourison overcomes injuries to become Naugy’s top dog

As a sophomore, injuries threatened more than Jake Yourison’s football career. The Greyhounds senior running back battled through those injuries to come back stronger than ever. RA ARCHIVE

Editor’s note: This feature appeared in the Citizen’s News special Thanksgiving football section. This version was updated following the Thanksgiving game versus Ansonia.

Two years ago, Jake Yourison stared potential paralysis in the face. His injured back was threatening to not only end his football career, but forever change his life.

Yourison played his sophomore season with his L5 and S1 vertebrae at risk of fusing together to form a single joint in his lower back. If they were successful in doing so, doctors told Yourison he would be paralyzed in his lower body.

“I knew that if any moment if I took wrong hit, I could be down for the count,” Yourison says. “But I knew the team needed me so I kept playing.”

And so epitomizes one of the toughest Naugatuck Greyhounds of the last decade.

Luckily, the threat of paralysis diminished as Yourison grew into his body, but he suffered a new round of injuries during last year’s Naugatuck Valley League championship-winning season.

“I hurt my shoulder in week three of the season and I also hurt my other shoulder in the Ansonia game,” Yourison says. “I had two separated shoulders by the end of the season.”

So heading into his senior season, in which he would be heavily involved on both sides of the ball, Yourison knew he had to take care of himself to make it through the last year of his career.

“I tried to overcome my injuries by offseason lifting,” Yourison says. “I needed to keep my body in better condition so I worked out a lot during the offseason.”

Naugatuck coach Rob Plasky saw Yourison’s effort to return to the gridiron for a final time.

“We thought he’d never be able to play another football game,” Plasky says. “With his hard work and perseverance, he was able to get back on to the football field.”

Despite the injuries, Yourison has managed to stay on the field for the majority of the last three years, including last season’s historic run.

“Last year was a lot of fun,” Yourison says. “We had so much talent. We could basically do whatever we wanted on offense and defense. We made a lot of memories with those people.”

But this season was bound to be different as most playmakers from both sides of the ball graduated. Yourison knew he had to take the slack and drape it over his shoulders.

“I knew I was going to have to step up big time,” Yourison says. “There weren’t many people with varsity experience so I had to show them. The speed of the game changes. It took a while for everyone to get it going.”

Yourison’s contributions to this year’s team don’t even start on the field, according to Plasky.

“Jake offers a lot of leadership, just by his example of hard work,” Plasky says. “He’s always there. His commitment and his hard work speak for themselves.”

Over his first two seasons as a varsity player, Yourison saw some time at running back and was the leader of Naugatuck’s defense at middle linebacker. But with Yourison being the only proven offensive player entering this season, Plasky put more of the burden on him.

“The fact that he had a great offensive year for us this year is something,” Plasky says. “I always thought of him as a traditional middle linebacker at Naugatuck High School. We needed him to do more this year and he did it. He single-handedly beat Derby. He almost single-handedly beat Torrington.”

Even though Yourison has individually had a fantastic senior season, the team struggled through a three-loss stretch in the middle of the year to evaporate to the Greyhounds’ chances of repeating last season’s success.

“The toughest part has been trying to stay focused and to keep pushing forward,” Yourison says. “We had those three losses when going in we were undefeated. We wanted to keep our goals and finish with a winning record.”

Naugatuck clinched consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2005-07, but ended the year with a lose to Ansonia on Thanksgiving.

“It’s going to be a crazy day,” Yourison said, prior to Thanksgiving. “It’s going to be our last senior game together. We’re going in there focused. We want to win this game.”

But to Plasky, Yourison’s legacy wouldn’t be determined by what happened on Thanksgiving.

“You can’t really explain,” Plasky says. “He loves football. Those types of kids, you don’t get many of them. He’s a special kid.”