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Lawsuit filed against high school football coach

The Somerville High School senior had been groomed for the varsity team since his freshman year and was excited to play “quick guard” and offensive tackle for the Pioneers.

But instead of helping his team to victory and impressing college recruiters, the student athlete spent most of the season on the bench and on a psychiatrist’s couch, according to a lawsuit that claims the school’s longtime coach bullied and retaliated against the player when he refused to play with an injured leg.

The lawsuit, filed by the family in state Superior Court in Somerville in December, names the Somerville Board of Education and head coach Greg Arakelian as defendants.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for the 17-year-old’s suffering, legal fees and possible cost of attending a private school next year so that he can play football as a “fifth year” senior.

The lawsuit claims Arakelian sabotaged the player’s chances at wooing recruiters from top football colleges by unfairly benching him during the season and refusing to facilitate interviews with college representatives.

The family claims Arakelian abused his position as the special-education student’s guidance counselor, “using special knowledge” of his “anxieties and other confidential conditions.”

The student was assigned to another guidance counselor after the family’s attorney Brian M. Cige, of Somerville, contacted the school, the suit says.

The student, whose name the Courier News is withholding, and his Branchburg family declined to speak on the record, citing fears of further retaliation and “peer pressure,” Cige said in an email.

Arakelian, reached Monday, said he was not allowed to discuss the lawsuit. Somerville schools Superintendent Timothy J. Purnell said he could not comment on a pending lawsuit.

Somerville ended the season with a 5-4 record. The school, which draws students from the borough as well as Branchburg, hasn’t won a sectional championship since 1994, the year Arakelian joined as an assistant coach.

Arakelian was a defensive line coach for the Montclair State University in 1992 and 1993 and coached high school teams in Bergen County before coming to Somerville.

The fate of Arakelian, head coach since 2007, is uncertain at Somerville. The high school’s new principal, Corey Jones, has asked all coaching staff and club advisers to reapply for their after-school positions.

The lawsuit says the player was diagnosed in August with Osgood-Schlatter disease, a knee injury caused by growth spurts, that kept him out of commission until October. That was too long a time for Arakelian, who pressured the student to play and created a hostile environment when he refused, the suit claims.

The suit also says Arakelian’s behavior toward the player was mirrored by his teammates and the school’s vice principal and athletic director, Scott Hade, who did not return a call for comment.

“(Arakelian) failed and refused to fulfill his obligations as his Guidance Counselor, which were specially needed given his dual capacity as head football coach and recruiting contact, essentially abandoning Plaintiff… and causing him to be without this support during a critical time,” the court document says.

“At stake was the choice of programs with schools that have a history of success and advancement to the professional leagues, scholarship and other financial opportunities.”

The suit says the family will decide next month whether to enroll at the Peddie School, a private Hightstown school with a $35,000 tuition.

In the meantime, the suit says, the student has been seeing a psychiatrist “while dealing with the anxieties and uncertainties of where he will eventually end up in football, in college and in life.”

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