Carlson: Why OSU quarterback Shane Illingworth's family didn't expect him to suit up vs. Tulsa, let alone save the day
STILLWATER — Tiffany McDonald wanted to be inside Boone Pickens Stadium last weekend for her son’s first college football game.
Thing is, she wasn’t sure he would even be in uniform.
He had been in quarantine for two weeks, the result of contact tracing after his roommate tested positive for the coronavirus. That meant practices were missed, and for a true freshman like him, that was problematic.
He wasn’t even released from quarantine until Thursday.
Less than 24 hours before kickoff, he found out he would actually get to dress for the game.
“We were just going to go to the game and see him on the sideline for the first time,” his mom said. “We weren’t expecting anything.”
But Shane Illingworth did something last Saturday.
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OSU’s third-string quarterback came in after starter Spencer Sanders was hurt and back-up Ethan Bullock was ineffective. He took over with the offense stuck in neutral and the Cowboys facing disaster against Tulsa. He made his college debut in the toughest of spots — and rallied OSU to victory.
His mom and other family members who were there for the game watched it with their own eyes, but almost a week later, they’re still a little bit in shock at what they saw.
“It’s so crazy to me,” McDonald said. “I always knew he would get to this level, but I didn’t think that we would be …
“I don’t know.”
She paused again.
McDonald along with husband, Chris, and their two kids recently moved from California to Oklahoma to be closer to Illingworth. Tiffany’s side of the family is from Oklahoma. Her mom is here. So is her brother and several aunts, uncles and cousins.
Along with her dad — he lives in California but came to Oklahoma to help her family get settled in its new place — the McDonalds drove to Stillwater on Saturday morning. They were excited to see Illingworth during warmups, to make eye contact with him, to wave at him.
It was as close as they’d been to each other since Christmas.
McDonald hadn't been with Illingworth since the holiday. Soon after, he left California to start school at OSU. Even though he returned to the West Coast when the pandemic shut down the university, he lived with his dad a few hours away.
Worries about traveling and possibly catching the virus kept McDonald from visiting.
Illingworth eventually returned to Stillwater to start practice, and McDonald knew she’d have to wait until the season started to see her son in person again.
Right after the McDonalds arrived in Oklahoma earlier this month, Illingworth went into quarantine. His mom was so distraught she made a promise then and there — she wasn’t going to miss the opener.
Still, no one in the family anticipated what would happen.
Larry Bales, McDonald’s dad, can still hear the sound of the crowd when his grandson went into the game in the third quarter. Even though the crowd capacity was reduced, Bales felt like Cowboy fans came alive for the first time.
“He brings this thing around and electrified the crowd,” Bales said. “The crowd just went crazy over this guy.”
Folks around Bales went crazy over him, too. Wearing an orange shirt with ILLINGWORTH and 16 on the back and PAPA on the front, Bales got congratulated by several fans. A couple even wanted a photo with him.
“Nobody ever takes a picture with me,” he said.
“I’m a famous papa now.”
Everything that happened Saturday is still a little surreal to everyone in the family.
“He won the game,” Bales said of his grandson. “Gosh almighty.”
McDonald said, “He’s always done really well under pressure. … He’s always been able to stay calm and collected.”
“He didn’t get that from me.”
Then again, who could blame anyone in Illingworth’s family for being excited?
They didn’t think he was going to be in uniform much less in the game. They weren’t expecting him to do anything, and instead, they got to see him do something they’ll be talking about forever.
No matter what does the rest of the season or even the rest of his career as a Cowboy, what happened last Saturday will always hold a special place in their hearts.
“He was given the opportunity, and he doesn’t miss an opportunity,” his mom said. “He was ready to go. He’s been waiting for this a long time.
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.