Ricardo Azucar entered Memorial High School this month with a huge reputation and tons of expectations.
“I’ve been watching him since his Pop Warner days,” said Memorial head football coach Oscar Guerrero. “We knew he had a chance to help us right away, even as a freshman.”
“I was excited,” Azucar said. “I knew what was expected of me.”
The freshman running back was supposed to be the best football player to go to Memorial in ages. He had all the tools to be a great one – size, speed, field awareness. He was the most exciting thing to happen to Memorial football in a long time.
But just when Azucar was set to make his big start with the Tigers, disaster struck.
“It was during the first five minutes of training camp,” Guerrero said. “We were doing a tackling drill and he got his hand caught and bent the wrong way. He’s a tough kid who just wanted the trainer to wrap it up and continue playing.”
It wasn’t that simple. Azucar broke his hand and the injury required surgery.
“It was real frustrating,” Azucar said. “I wanted to play right away and then this happened. When I heard surgery, I thought I’d be out a lot longer.”
As it turned out, Azucar was only going to be out of action for six weeks. He was going to be able to return to action when the season began.
“I had to let it heal,” Azucar said. “It was put in a splint.”
So the start of Azucar’s storied career was put on hold for a bit, through the first two games of the season.
Azucar was on the sidelines when the Tigers were mauled by St. Peter’s Prep, 77-7, two weeks ago.
“It was really hard to watch that game,” Azucar said. “I wanted to be out there with my teammates. I had to wait one more week. I couldn’t wait to get back to practice.”
Guerrero didn’t know what to expect from his fabulous freshman. Guerrero knew that Azucar would probably be behind the other members of the Tiger backfield, because the other kids had a full training camp and two games under their belts.
“I didn’t want to put too much on his plate,” Guerrero said.
So when the Tigers faced Montclair Immaculate last week, Azucar was set to make his high school football debut.
“I was real excited and happy to be out there,” Azucar said.
It didn’t take long for Azucar to make his presence felt.
On his very first carry, Azucar broke free for a 58-yard touchdown. That’s right, the first time the teenager touches the football on the varsity level, he takes it to the house. That’s incredible.
“Everyone was waiting for me to do something,” Azucar said. “I felt like I had to do something.”
“I was definitely excited for him, but I was worried if it was perhaps too much, too soon,” Guerrero said.
Azucar didn’t stop there. He only carried the ball five times for the game, but three went for touchdowns. He had the 58-yarder on the first carry, then added scoring runs of five and 54 yards respectively. Azucar capped his first high school game with 154 yards on the five attempts and three scores in the Tigers’ 42-6 win. Not a bad way to break in.
And for his efforts, Azucar has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. He’s the first freshman football player to ever receive the honor.
“He had a great day,” Guerrero said. “It’s not a bad start at all. Never in all my years have I seen a freshman do that. He has a tremendous amount of potential.”
Guerrero said that Azucar has the makings of being a great running back.
“He has great vision,” Guerrero said. “That’s tough to coach. He sees how the blocks develop and then takes off. He has really good quickness. He made plays in this game that definitely gets us excited for the future. Of course, there are things that we still have to work on, but we’re excited about what he can become. He handled himself very well.”
Azucar said that he was a little stunned to have such instant success.
“Yeah, I’m a little surprised,” Azucar said. “I wasn’t thinking of doing that right away. I was just trying to have a decent first game. I never thought I’d get over 100 yards and then score three touchdowns. That’s just crazy.”
But it certainly helps to put the young man on the collective map.
“Yes, I definitely think this is just the start,” Azucar said.
“We all know that the games get tougher from here on,” said Guerrero, whose team faces Ferris this weekend. “We hope that he keeps rising to the occasion. There are going to be bumps in the road. We all know that. But he’s just a freshman. We’re very pleased with what he’s been able to show so far.”
Is it safe to say that Azucar has found a permanent place in the Tigers’ backfield?
“Let’s just say he’s in the mix,” Guerrero said. “I truly believe in baptism by fire and he certainly got thrown into the fire last week. He’s going to be one of our key guys.”
Azucar is of Hispanic descent. The name “Azucar” means “sugar” in English.
There was a running back with the Chicago Bears during their heyday named Walter Payton whose nickname was “Sweetness.”
“I can handle that,” Azucar said.
How about just “Sugar?”
“I like that as well,” Azucar said. “This just motivates me to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I want to keep working hard and help my team win football games.”
That idea sounds awfully sweet for Memorial football fans. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.