Muskegon senior – Football
Muskegon’s 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback ran 32 times for 247 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Big Reds to a 28-10 win over Farmington Hills Harrison in Saturday’s Division 3 Final, earning Jefferson the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” The championship was Muskegon’s first since 2008 and came after the Big Reds fell by a point to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the 2016 championship game – when the Eaglets scored with four seconds to play.
Jefferson, who also celebrated his 18th birthday Saturday, finished this season with 2,097 yards and 33 touchdowns rushing and 1,205 yards and 21 touchdowns passing. His rushing touchdown total will make the MHSAA record book, and his performance Saturday earned four entries for accomplishments in a championship game. After splitting time at quarterback as a junior – and running for two touchdowns in the 2016 Final – Jefferson led arguably the best team in the state, regardless of division. The Big Reds scored 722 points, which rank third-most in state history, averaging 51.2 per game, which ranks 10th. Their average margin of victory was 45 points, and they outscored their five playoff opponents by a combined 221-36.
Individual awards are piling up for Jefferson, who was named Division 3-4 Player of the Year by The Associated Press and statewide Michigan High School Football Player of the Year by MLive. He previously had committed to continue his football and academic careers at University of Central Florida, but has re-opened his recruiting with Michigan State and Georgia Tech among those recruiting him hardest. Jefferson, who also ran track last spring, has big plans aside from football; he carries a 3.4 cumulative grade-point average and is a member of National Honor Society, and he plans to study aerospace engineering wherever he ends up.
Coach Shane Fairfield said: “He is just a selfless kid that loves to win, that loves family. He’s driven by the relationships in his home. And he loves his teammates. And he was more vocal and determined this week to get this win, because his biggest thing is he wants all the kids who aren’t going to have the chance to experience what he’s going to experience after he graduates to have some type of experience that they can say either, ‘Hey, I played with La’Darius’ or ‘I won a state championship when I was in high school.’ And that’s it – he’s very aware of how lucky and fortunate he is to be in the position he is, and he just wants to share that with all of his teammates.”
Performance Point: “It’s amazing. It’s something people dream of,” Jefferson said. “People dream about scoring the last touchdown in their backyard, making the final hoop. It’s a blessing. I’m trying to hold my tears in. We worked so hard to get here. We’ve been gassed and pounded. It’s so special. … This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me besides my family.”
Team of destiny: “It’s something these boys have been dreaming about. I kid you not; I told Eli Jackson, 44, our eighth grade year that we were going to win it. I mean, we’re here.”
Motivated Muskegon: “We had a chip on our shoulder until (the clock) was zero-zero. We weren’t done. We had a chip on our shoulder all year. Everybody we played, we said we’re going to punish. … Everybody doubted us. Everybody said we lost Kalil Pimpleton, one of the best players in the state (who played this fall at Virginia Tech). We lost JaCorey Sullivan (Central Michigan) … Andrew Ward (Nebraska), one of the best defensive players in the state last year. We lost them big boys up front. So we overcame.”
Checkmate: “I’ve been more humble (this season). I enjoy the moment. I feel like last year it was an amp moment; I wasn’t feeling it. I told myself, it’s all I’ve got. It’s my last job. I go through every day and I do a checklist. As a kid I dreamed about winning player of the year and breaking records and doing all this, and I did all that. The final checklist was win a state championship, and I can go home and check that off.”
Soaring on and off the field: “I know I want to be a successful young man beyond football. I want to go to college and study aerospace engineering, get my degree and help provide for my family. I’ve got goals beyond football. I thought as a kid that football was the only thing that I had, (but) I can do without football. I’m a great student. I work hard; I work my butt off in the classroom. I want to build planes. Who don’t want to build planes? Who don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, La’Darius built this big machine that’s flying?’ It’s cool; it’s unique.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Previous 2017-18 honorees:
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) La'Darius Jefferson crosses into the end zone for one of his four touchdowns during the Division 3 Final on Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) Jefferson breaks into an opening while Harrison defenders pursue.
While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.
The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.
“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”
Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”
The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.
“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”
This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.
“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”
Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.
“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”
Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.
“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”
PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)