By Jim Fenton
EASTON, Mass. - In just one season on the Stonehill College football team, Henry Thevenin was able to make a lasting impression.
Whether it was through his play as a freshman defensive lineman, with his work ethic or his cheerful personality, the Brockton resident quickly became a popular member of the Skyhawks in the 2010 season.
"He was one of the people who got you hyped up for the game,'' said Stonehill running back Jamal Johnson, who attended Brockton High and played football for the Boxers with his friend. "As a freshman, he was breaking the huddles and leading. He's always been leading. Ever since high school, he was doing the same thing.''
Thevenin was a contributor on the field in his first year of college football, and he was someone who could light up a room.
"My best memory about him is just the smile he had on his face,'' said Stonehill senior captain Matthew Iannucci. "I mean, every time I read what someone says about him, they talk about that smile and how he made everybody smile, and any time I was with him, he was making people laugh, whether he knew the person or not.
"Whether he knew the person or not, whether it was the first time he met them, he just became great friends.''
The Skyhawks have plenty of fond thoughts of Thevenin, who died on June 14 at the age of 20 following a two-month battle with leukemia.
Stonehill, which began training camp last Friday leading up to a Sept. 2 opener against Curry College at W.B. Mason Stadium, is dedicating the 2011 season to his memory.
The pain that came with Thevenin's death at such a young age just two months ago remains, but the Skyhawks want to focus on doing something special for their friend and teammate.
"It's very important,'' said Johnson, a sophomore. "I put some of the load on myself because I want to do good for him and I'm sure everybody else is feeling the same way.''
The Skyhawks have dedicated their 2011 season to former teammate Henry Thevenin who passed away during the summer. (PHOTO BY Robert Klein)
Said senior wide receiver Phil Coriaty of Brockton, also a high school teammate of Thevenin: "That's the most important thing to me right now. He meant more than the world to me. I know he wanted us to have a great season this year. Ever since I met him, when I was a sophomore in high school, I knew he had that drive and wanted to win.''
Stonehill players will be wearing a patch with Thevenin's No. 91 on it, and there will be a remembrance of him during a pregame ceremony on opening night.
"A huge inspiration,'' said Iannucci. "He's just motivating people right now, day in and day out. Every morning I wake up and I think about him and it just makes me that much more focused on the day and what I have ahead of me and how blessed I am to be here.
"Coming into camp, (losing Thevenin) makes it tougher. But with him looking down on us, it makes it easier. We've got him right there with us right now. He's making it easier on us.''
As Stonehill coach Robert Talley gets his team ready for the season, he knows the players have been through a difficult process since the beginning of summer.
"It's tough,'' said Talley. "You don't know exactly how they're feeling. Some of these kids have never dealt with death that close to them. It's the first time.
"In some ways, you don't know how it's affecting them. It's more we're trying to be there for people when they need it.
"Henry not being here is just a valuable lesson for really everybody and how fortunate we are to have this opportunity. That's our rallying call, how fortunate we are. We want to make sure we remember him the right way. It's about how we play and approach the game, how we go about our business.''
Thevenin, who played one season at Suffield Academy in Connecticut after being an Enterprise All-Scholastic at Brockton High, worked his way into the starting lineup as a Stonehill freshman.
He started the final six games, making 18 tackles, and there were high hopes for the future. But in the early portion of spring practice, Thevenin experienced back pain, which eventually led to a trip to the hospital where a blood test revealed he had leukemia.
During the final two months of his life after that diagnosis, Thevenin remained upbeat.
"To me,'' said Talley, "the absolute beautiful thing about Henry was when he was sick in the hospital, he was more worried about other people and we know he'd be (mad) if we were down now. He'd be angry.
"I think the players know that he doesn't want us to be down. He wants us to play hard and remember him that way.''
Beginning with the first practice last week all the way through to the season finale on Nov. 12, the Skyhawks will keep Thevenin front and center.
He made a lasting impression on the Stonehill campus in a short amount of time. First-year Skyhawks assistant coach Massoud Atallah coached Thevenin at Brockton High and is well aware the impact he made on people.
"Any time that someone passes, they always say, 'He was special,''' said Atallah, who was looking forward to being reunited with Thevenin at Stonehill. "But this kid, he was really, really special. They talk about how he could light up a room with a smile, and he could.''
Those memories will not be forgotten as the Skyhawks try to honor Thevenin with their play this fall.
"It's one of the toughest thing I, myself, and the team has ever faced,'' said Coriaty. "We just have to look at the positives and face this adversity and get through it. I'll remember his positive attitude and his work ethic. He was always the hardest worker. We'll try to think of the good things that he did and turn that into a positive.''