How Will Shields' greatness in Nebraska and Kansas City began with roots in Lawton
Will Shields is often associated with Nebraska and Kansas City.
Easy to see why.
Nebraska is where he played his college ball, winning the Outland Trophy and becoming one of the greatest Huskers of all time. Kansas City is where he played his pro ball, spending all 14 seasons of his NFL career with the Chiefs and starting 231 consecutive games at right guard, an NFL record for that position.
Such success is bound to create bonds.
But for Shields, his most important association is elsewhere.
“Lawton’s home,” he said of the southwest Oklahoma town where his family moved when he was still a toddler. “Lawton is our base. Lawton is what starts everything.”
As Shields prepares to be inducted Monday into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, his credentials are not in question. He has already been welcomed into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is one of the top five football players to ever come out of our state’s high school ranks.
But if not for a tough and unconventional decision made by his parents, Shields’ roots in Oklahoma would never have taken hold.
Shields was the son of a military man. His dad was in the Army stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas when Shields was born. Before he was 3, the family was moved to Texas, then to Oklahoma for an assignment at Fort Sill.
When Shields was in elementary school, his dad was told he was being moved again.
Duration: three years.
That sort of assignment often means the entire family moves. But Shields’ parents decided to do things differently. His dad would go. His mom and the kids would stay.
It had to be tough for both parents. He didn’t get to see his family every day. She had to handle the kids on her own. But their choice allowed the kids to have some stability. They didn’t have to start at new schools. They didn’t have to make new friends.
The decision was transformational for Shields, who credits his father for the idea.
“He gave us an opportunity to stay, to be there and to be part of the community and grow up there without uprooting us to go with him,” Shields said. “That was a sacrifice.”
Lawton wasn't just a stop along the way. It became home. It was where Shields rode bikes and made friends and played football and sang in choir and laid the foundation for the man he would become.
Shields became known as a blue-collar offensive lineman, a reflection of the hard-working town he calls home. Folks in Lawton, many of them stationed at Fort Sill, get up and go to work every day. It isn’t celebrated. It just is.
So it was with Shields.
Making 231 consecutive starts in Kansas City, for example, was often about Shields going to work even when he didn’t necessarily feel like it. He says he was banged up and hurting numerous times over the course of that streak.
“I was one of those guys that always wanted to be on the field and be a part of it,” he said, “so I took it on myself to be that person and try to be that accountability piece.”
Because of that mindset, there were only two or three times he got into pregame warmups and truly wasn’t sure whether his ailment of the moment would allow him to play.
Once, he even told someone in the locker room he wasn’t going to be able to go.
“Do you have any idea what kind of game streak you have going right now?” Shields remembers being told.
“You’re thinking about a game streak,” Shields said, “and I’m thinking about my knee.”
“Sixty percent of you is better than 80 percent of this other guy. Tape it up, and we’re goin’.”
That’s what Shields did because of what he learned and how he was raised in Lawton.
The player he became at Nebraska and in Kansas City is because of the place he will always call home.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
Meet the new class
This is the fifth of the seven-part series introducing this year’s Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame class ahead of the Aug. 12 induction.
Tuesday: Kendall Cross
Wednesday: Patty Gasso
Thursday: Mike Moore
Friday: Lou Henson
Saturday: Will Shields
Sunday: Bob Stoops
Monday: Mickey Tettleton