The most impressive player on the Ford Field turf over the weekend was Muskegon quarterback La’Darius Jefferson.
It had nothing to do with any of the 245 yards he gained or four touchdowns he scored.
It had everything to do with what occurred moments after the Big Reds accepted the Division 3 state championship trophy following their convincing 28-10 victory over Farmington Hills Harrison.
With the Harrison players gathered together, Jefferson asked to speak to the Hawks, who include his friend Ovie Oghoufo, who has committed to Notre Dame.
Jefferson spoke to them about losing. Muskegon had lost in the finals four times in the last five years, but that isn’t the losing Jefferson talked about.
“We know how it feels to lose,” he told them. “In my city, we lose people every day – gun violence, gang violence. So, love each other up, stick together, be a brotherhood. I mean, because these are all you got – brothers to the left and right of you are all you got, so cherish this moment. Wins or losses, you’ll still be great young men.
“Love each other up because not everybody’s going to go to college like Ovie. Not everybody’s going to be a Notre Dame commit. Not everybody’s blessed to have that, so love each other up and treat each other special.”
You want special? That was special.
“He’s Mr. Football,” declared Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield.
No one in Ford Field would argue with Fairfield, and certainly not Harrison coach John Herrington. He has coached against a lot of quarterbacks in his 48 seasons at Harrison, but could not recall anyone like Jefferson.
“Not one that ran that hard,” he said. “I don’t know how fast he is; he’s plenty fast for us. He’s tough. The plays weren’t anything real tricky. He’d take then snap, fake and run behind those big guys and you just couldn’t tackle him. Nobody stopped him all year and I guess we didn’t stop him, either.”
This was a monumental accomplishment for Fairfield. Losing in the finals always hurts, and when you lose on the last play of the game like the Big Reds did a year ago, it makes the loss sting more and linger longer.
That may be why Fairfield seemed like the most relieved guy in Ford Field.
“Wow! It feels like I lost 60 pounds,” he said. “I really don’t know how I feel right now. I’m kind of numb to the fact that I’ve been here four of the last five years and haven’t been on this side of the mic.”
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Muskegon is the winningest program in state history and won its sixth title. All of those victories come with expectations and Fairfield feels them every day.
But this victory means more to him than just the affirmation that he is an outstanding coach. It means he has a better opportunity to get his players to buy in to what he is selling, which has nothing to do with football.
“The lessons aren’t going to be done there,” Fairfield said. “If anything, for our community and our society and our young people, it proves the lessons that we’ve been teaching over the last five years are true, they have some weight to them.
“If you stick to the grind, stay true to people and continue to try do right for everybody, good things will happen. This kind of puts a cap on the message we’ve been saying for the last five years.”
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This also puts a cap on the high school career of Jefferson, who had committed to Central Florida, but reopened his recruiting. But Saturday night he wasn’t talking about football when he spoke about his future.
“I’ve got goals beyond football,” he said. “I thought, as a kid, football was the only thing that I had, but I can do without football. I’m a great student. I work my butt off in the classroom. Aerospace engineering is the way I want to go outside of this football thing.”
Aerospace engineering? You don’t get many all-state players mentioning aerospace engineering as their chosen career path.
“I want to build planes,” he said. “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.”
Jefferson is unique. At 6 feet 2 and 215 pounds, he is built like a tank and moves like one, plowing through defenses.
He didn’t discuss his college decision or even if he has narrowed his list of schools.
“I’ll let everybody know something soon,” he said. “I’ll look into it. I might pick up some more (offers) after this.”
One last ride
This was Harrison’s state record 18th championship game. The Hawks have won a record 13 titles, but next season will be the final year before the school is closed.
“One more year!” Herrington said. “I’ll be back for the last year, It’s going to be a tough year. We’ve got a few guys coming back. We’re not going to have a lot of guys, maybe 25.
“But we’re going to put a team together and have some fun the last year.”
Mick McCabe is a former longtime columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.