They crossed through his living room as if it were the sideline at the Rose Bowl. Penn State. Tennessee. LSU. South Carolina. For someone like Eric Favors, those schools, their colors, are worth a few daydreams, imagining himself wearing their storied colors on Saturday afternoons in the fall.
The fact that those schools courted him, chased him, would’ve fulfilled the childhood dream of a younger Favors, who wanted nothing more than to play big-time college football. Sure enough, the North Rockland senior has matured into the best player in the county and, according to longtime coaches, one of the best defensive linemen to play at the school in 50 years, maybe more.
But at a modest 5-foot-11, Favors’ suitors are not the famous coaches he once expected, with their headsets and multimillion-dollar contracts. Instead, they measure improvement in feet and inches, not yards.
Eric Favors the football star is now one of the most coveted shot-putters in the nation.
“It becomes a personal choice as to who’s knocking down my door, who wants me,” North Rockland track and field coach Gene Dall said. “He’s getting national attention from track people, and here’s the deal: If you can throw it 65 feet, it doesn’t matter if you’re 5-2.”
Favors isn’t exactly 5-2, but his height could be all that prevents him from playing major-college football.
“He’s up there with any of those Division I guys I’ve had. Absolutely,” said North Rockland athletic director and former football coach Joe Casarella, who has been at the school for 48 years and has helped coach men to the NFL. “The colleges, they don’t measure your heart, and this kid plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s dedicated. He’s one of the best defensive linemen I’ve ever seen.”
That has always been the story with Favors, a Pop Warner star who stepped into the starting lineup for the varsity as a freshman. He was the nose guard on North Rockland’s 2011 sectional championship team and has been all-county and all-section since.
Favors actually began competing in the shot put and discus as a sophomore to keep in shape for football. His first throw with the shot went 40 feet, Dall recalled, but times have most definitely changed.
Favors’ rapid improvement began that year under North Rockland’s longtime throwing coach, Bob Murphy. Under Murphy’s tutelage, Favors learned proper technique in the circle and in the weight room. Murphy learned that winter he had cancer, and he died the following spring, but what he taught Favors about throwing the shot and how to train in the weight room resonated. Favors’ throws improved by more than 10 feet by the end of the spring season.
“He really showed me how to glide,” Favors said. “I was just throwing on pure strength, but I began to focus on my technique.”
As his football star continued to brighten, Favors also began working religiously on his throwing. He spent days throwing the shot by himself at the school or at a park near his grandmother’s house in Pomona. Kids from the neighborhood gather to watch him there, and Favors films himself and posts clips to YouTube to gauge his improvement.
“I’m trying to switch techniques, so that’s why I post it on YouTube. But I’m not that good,” he said modestly.
Before his junior year, Favors still hoped to play football in college, but his ever-increasing success with the shot put complicated that. He peaked last spring when he set a school and junior state record with a throw of 65-5¼. He finished second at the state meet and third at nationals to Benjamin Bonhurst of Smithtown West. Bonhurst now attends Florida State.
Suddenly, Favors entered the summer as the top-ranked shot-putter in the Class of 2015 and top schools from the SEC, ACC and beyond were coming to his home.
“I didn’t think I was going to go to school for shot put. I thought I was going to play football,” Favors said. “But it’s a good education, good sports. Why wouldn’t you go there?”
Favors’ decision has also been simplified by his lack of suitors for football — a major bone of contention for his coaches. The 243-pound rock consistently draws an unusual amount of attention from offenses, who routinely double- and triple-team him.
Favors’ highlight films are a sight to behold. Play after play, he looks like someone who stole the snap count from the center and quarterback.
“I’m shocked that nobody is biting on him,” North Rockland coach Tom Lynch said. “Just look at his film. It’s not about his size; it’s about how quick he is off the ball. I wish one school would take a look at him. I don’t think there’s a coach in the section who would say he doesn’t deserve a shot. I’m telling you, I don’t see a lot of guys on TV who are that good.”
Incidentally, Favors’ size is unusual for an elite thrower as well. Dall noted that Favors is the fourth 60-foot shot-putter he has coached, but the others were 6-2, 6-4 and 6-8.
He said in shot put, all that really matters are the results.
“He’s just a better athlete and much faster,” Dall said. “His legs are huge. Basically, if you’re a thrower, people are always thinking about how strong your arm is. It’s your legs that provide your power. They’re the biggest muscle in your body.”
The North Rockland athletic office has been inundated with interest in Favors. Recently, Michigan, Rutgers and Alabama joined the pursuit, and Favors scheduled an official visit, his first, to Tennessee for this weekend.
Meanwhile, he’s continued to thrive on the football field while training his body for track season. His mother, Theresa Hyman, said her son has completely cut soda and candy from his diet.
“He only lets me give him milk and water,” she said.
Last Sunday, coaches on the football staff, still hoping their prize will find his way onto a college football field, gathered at the school to watch film. When they left the building, the tireless Favors, 24 hours removed from a football game, was outside heaving throws on a back field by himself.
“I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Lynch said. “He told me, ‘I just got done throwing the shot put.’
“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my life.”
Don’t think Favors’ football snub has nothing to do with it. For someone who once wanted something so much, his attitude has remained upbeat despite being forced to shift his focus from one sport to the other.
That’s because as he chases his next dream, his old one pushes him still.
“They really just look at the height and not my work ethic and all that, but it’s all right,” he said. “I feel like it’s a chip on my shoulder. I just have to work even harder to get better. It motivates me.”