Nightmare Ends with Shanks' Dream Finish

December 6, 2017

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

The media were fixated on La’Darius Jefferson, and who can blame them?

The senior quarterback validated his recent selection as the MLive statewide Football Player of the Year by rushing 32 times for 245 yards and all four of Muskegon’s touchdowns in a 28-10 victory over Farmington Hills Harrison in the MHSAA Division 3 Final on Nov. 25 at Ford Field. He followed that up by giving the dejected Harrison players a classy postgame pep talk.

If it wasn’t Jefferson, the cameras were focused on eighth-year Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield, who overcame four losses in the title game by finally taking the final step and hoisting the championship trophy,

But the best story coming out of Muskegon’s recently-won title belonged to senior cornerback Willie “Bo” Shanks – a tale that started with heartbreak, which morphed into an ongoing nightmare, which had to be confronted and converted into motivation, then mixed in with relentless hard work before finally culminating with redemption. Sweet redemption.

“It felt great; it felt right,” said Shanks, the soft-spoken leader of the Big Reds’ secondary. “I guess the lesson in my story is that with focus and hard work, you can overcome anything.”

The heartbreak occurred one year ago, when Shanks was playing cornerback on the final play in Muskegon’s heartbreaking 2016 Division 3 Final 29-28 loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Shanks was running with receiver Ky’ren Cunningham, who abruptly turned in at the goal line. Before Shanks could react, the ball was in Cunningham’s arms on the ground in the end zone with six seconds showing on the clock, courtesy of a perfectly-timed pass from quarterback Caden Prieskorn.

Even though player after player, coach after coach, fan after fan, and family member after family member pointed out that it wasn’t just one play which cost Muskegon the championship, Shanks couldn’t shake it off.

"I think about it every play," the soft-spoken Shanks said earlier this season. "I think about it every day in practice. I think about it every time we go out and play a game. I even think about it when I`m asleep. I have nightmares about it, so it just motivates me a lot to not let it happen again."

Fairfield decided right away that the best way to deal with the pain of that loss was to bring it out in the open – confront it and then work to overcome it.

“We got beat with six seconds left, so everything ever since has been six more reps, six more sprints, six more drills,” said Shanks, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior who is also a starting guard on Muskegon’s basketball team, which opens its season Friday at home against Rockford.

The hard work by Shanks and fellow seniors Clinton Jefferson and Marvin Harwell and junior Lamarion Sherrill turned Muskegon’s perceived Achilles heel – pass defense – into a strength.

In both of Muskegon’s losses in 2016, against visiting Chicago Lincolnshire Stevenson (38-35) in Week 2 and the Final against St. Mary’s, the Big Reds were torched through the air. Led by Shanks in the secondary, the Big Reds fielded a defense for the first time in years this fall that was equally good against the run and the pass – with only Muskegon Mona Shores having even a modicum of success passing.

“He was our solid rock all year back in the secondary,” Fairfield said of Shanks, who is now hoping to play defensive back at the college level.

Shanks had his individual highlight in the Regional championship game against DeWitt on Nov. 10 at Grand Haven, when he intercepted three passes (including one he took back for a touchdown) as Muskegon rolled to a shocking 49-0 victory. Those three interceptions gave him 10 for the season, breaking the school record of eight held by three players, including ex-Southern Cal standout and NFL player Ronald Johnson.

If the story ended right there, it would have been a much happier ending than most ever get in the sports world. Sports Illustrated and others have told countless stories of wayward kickers, not to mention recognizable figures like Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman, who never quite recovered from a single play during a game.

But this story had a perfect ending not only for Shanks, but for the Muskegon football program as well.

After dispatching overmatched Battle Creek-Harper Creek, 42-0, in the Semifinals, Muskegon returned to the familiar confines of Ford Field, almost one year to the day of its last-second defeat.

No worries this time around. When the scoreboard clock reached :06 this year, the Big Reds were comfortably in celebration mode.

6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …0.

For Jefferson, Fairfield and the entire Muskegon football family, it was a dream come true.

And for one Big Red in particular, it also was a nightmare vanquished.

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon senior cornerback Willie Shanks tackles Farmington Hills Harrison receiver Joe Stevens during the Division 3 Final. (Middle) Shanks defends Grand Rapids Christian's Duane Washington during last year's Class A Regional at Grand Haven. Muskegon entered the game undefeated, before falling to the Eagles. (Below) Muskegon football coach Shane Fairfield, left, and Muskegon basketball coach and athletic director Keith Guy pose with the Class A District championship trophy after the Big Reds defeated Zeeland West this fall. Fairfield and Guy sharing great athletes like Shanks has put Muskegon’s programs among the state's elite in both football and basketball. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

MHSAA, MHSFCA to Provide Spring Evaluation Camps for College Football Hopefuls

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 27, 2023

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, in partnership with the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA), will be hosting first-ever Spring Evaluation Camps to provide athletes with aspirations of playing college football opportunities to show their skills and abilities to college coaches at one of five locations.

The one-day camps will take place between May 15-18 at Jenison High School, DeWitt High School, Jackson High School, Brighton High School and Detroit Country Day High School. The MHSAA’s involvement will allow for the opportunity for Division I college coaches to attend, and representatives from college football programs at all levels are expected.

Athletes who will be juniors or seniors in Fall 2023 may register to participate via a link on the Football page.

“This is an attempt by the MHSAA to help our athletes get exposure during the spring evaluation period in a way that does not intrude on spring sports,” said Brad Bush, an MHSAA assistant director and past high school and college football coach. “We are working with the MHSFCA to help put together a first-class experience for the athletes and college coaches.”

Cost is $20 per player, and each registrant will receive a shirt to wear based on the athlete’s graduation year and registration number so college coaches in attendance can monitor their camp performance. College coaches also will receive registration information for each athlete in attendance.

All athletes must have a coach from the athlete’s school staff present at the camp, and that coach must be a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.

MHSFCA executive director Andrew Pratley called the Spring Evaluation Camps a tremendous opportunity for high school athletes in Michigan.

“We are very excited with the partnership with the MHSAA that allows our kids the opportunity to wear a helmet and do drills in front of college coaches in the spring at a minimal cost,” Pratley said. “College coaches are thrilled, and it's a unique opportunity to have the rules waived by the MHSAA at these events only in order to showcase the tremendous talent all over the great state of Michigan.”

The Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) has been devoted to the promotion of high school football since its inception in March 1972. The MHSFCA has more than 2,500 members and provides several educational and development opportunities for members and their athletes, including an annual coaching clinic, an annual leadership conference for coaches and potential team captains, and the annual summer East-West All-Star Game for graduated seniors. Additionally, the MHSFCA’s Leadership Development Alliance is in its third year of training coaches and offering veteran members of the association as mentors.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.