By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider
Come again? Wait, me? Varsity?
That was basically Adam Abououkal’s reaction when Millbrook coach Sean Keenan asked him to play varsity this season.
Abououkal, 13, is an eighth-grader at Millbrook Middle School.
“I was in awe,” Abououkal said.
He isn’t anymore.
Abououkal and another Millbrook eighth-grader, John Caruso, have evolved into key players for the Blazers this season. Both are two-way linemen who played on Millbrook’s modified team last season. Abououkal and Caruso will get their first experience of state playoff football when the Blazers play Tuckahoe in the Class D quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Mahopac High School.
Millbrook (5-5) received a forfeit win over Eldred in the Section 9 title game last Friday.
“It’s been a lot of fun and a huge privilege,” Abououkal said. “Sometimes it has been a struggle, but I’ve dealt with it. It has become easier and I’m excited about the season we are having.”
Keenan decided to give Abououkal and Caruso a look this summer before the Arlington camp, which included Roosevelt, Spackenkill and Dover. Keenan’s youth movement wasn’t by choice: It was a necessity.
Millbrook graduated 15 players from last year’s Section 9 Class C runner-up team and there were plenty of holes to fill, including on the offensive and defensive lines. Still, Keenan, never one to mince words, wasn’t going to throw just any player into the trenches. Abououkal and Caruso had to earn their keep at the Arlington camp and they proved that they can hold their own.
“They have been a God send to us,” Keenan said. “These guys have a chance to play 50 varsity games in their career. That’s Texas (high school) football stuff. They are mentally tough and have really developed well. Sometimes they have to be reminded to stop acting like eighth-graders, but they belong here.”
Added Millbrook running back Erik Manfredi: “At first, we were kind of worried about Adam and John blocking for us. They were younger and not fully matured, but they have definitely grown. You can see it in how they talk to the seniors and the coaches, and how determined they are on and off the field. What they are doing is amazing.”
No matter what the Class, AA, A, B, C or D, playing varsity football as an eighth-grader is an incredible feat. Abououkal and Caruso have also had to find their way up front in a demanding and physical offense, Millbrook’s famed, yard-eating Double Wing-T attack. Caruso checks in at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds and Abououkal is 5-11, 210.
The maturation of Abououkal and Caruso is evident by watching them hold their own on the field. They may have been nervous when Keenan made the call to them this summer, but only a few months later, they know they belong.
“It’s a regular thing now,” Abououkal said. “Even when I started, I was impressed with how I could hold my own with the older players. I have many more years ahead of me and I’m looking forward to seeing how much better I can get.