After taking on adversity, Arriaga back to lead Bears

Mark Griffin

It was just like any normal car ride. Jesse Arriaga was a short distance behind, following his mother, Emily, in his Volkswagen Jetta in early July.
A car in front of him put on its turn signal to turn into a driveway, and Arriaga came to a stop. In his rearview mirror, he briefly noticed a Dodge Ram barrelling toward his rear bumper.
“I saw it coming,” Arriaga said. “I thought he was going to slow down, but when I looked again ... I don’t remember much after that. I was unconscious.”
The driver’s side air bag never deployed. Arriaga was taken by ambulance to Mercy Health-St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo and stayed there for “three or four days.” It was the first time in his life that Arriaga, 18, had ever been admitted to a hospital.
“I had bleeding in my brain a little bit,” he recalled. “I don’t remember anything. I really didn’t feel hurt when I woke up. I was dizzy.”
Fast forward a few weeks, when summer football practices are approaching at Gibsonburg High School, where Arriaga is ready to begin his senior year. Arriaga, a split end and kicker for coach Mike Lee’s Golden Bears, was advised not to play football because of his recent injury.
“I wanted to play,” Arriaga said, “but the first doctor I went to recommended me not playing. He said I could run track or play baseball. I went for a second opinion and he said I could play and that nothing could happen. The first doctor said because I had bleeding in the brain, (playing football) could mess me up. The second doctor said that shouldn’t matter, that everybody on the field was taking a risk.
“I just wanted to play my senior year. I knew we were going to be good this year and it was my last year playing football.”
Lee said Arriaga, a three-year starter who had three interceptions last year at cornerback, has exceeded his expectations this season simply for the fact that he’s playing football at all.
“I visited him in the hospital,” Lee said. “He wasn’t supposed to do anything for a week after that accident, because of the concussion. I just stayed away from him, but he would come to weightlifting and do what he could. He had busted his butt up until that accident. He was probably in the best shape of his life. I’m so proud of him that he’s overcome all that.”
The Bears improved to 6-0 and 3-0 in the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division with last week’s 48-14 win at Lakota. Gibsonburg has outscored its opponents by a 225-48 margin, and the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Arriaga has contributed on offense. He has a team-high four catches for 113 yards (28.3 average) and one touchdown, and he’s also kicked four field goals.
Receivers don’t see a lot of passes come their way in Gibsonburg’s run-heavy wing-T offense, which churned out 435 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the win at Lakota.
Junior quarterback Mitch Tille has only attempted 24 passes this season, completing 13 for 244 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. Second-leading receiver Hunter Smith, a senior and the team’s leading rusher (688 yards, nine touchdowns), has three catches for 60 yards in six games.
“I haven’t really accepted that yet, that I won’t get the ball that much,” Arriaga said. “But if the team is winning, that’s all that matters.”
Said Lee, “He’s a split end in the wing-T and he doesn’t get a lot of accolades. When he gets his number called, he’s money.”
Arriaga said he got into the business of kicking for the Bears after the team’s regular kicker, Jon Auld, got injured last season.
“I came in on Saturday and the coaches asked me if I wanted to do it,” Arriaga said. “I said I would try it, but I don’t know if I would be any good. I was alright for the first time, and I got better after that. Jon is doing kickoffs with me (this season), but not extra points or field goals.”
Arriaga said he wants to go into construction after high school, like his older brother Isaak, 21, but for now he’s focused on helping the Golden Bears finish strong.
“I like this team because of how we all compete in practice,” Jesse said. “We have some speed and we have some studs. We have two running backs (seniors Auld and Theo Hernandez) who are fast, and we have a big power back (Smith). We want to win the SBC again and we hope to make the (Division VI) playoffs. We thought about going 10-0 in the summer, we just knew we had to get through a couple of tough games.”


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