Ferris State's DeShaun Thrower seeks second national title, in second sport
It's a bit of a math equation.
Ferris State football coach Tony Annese and men's basketball coach Andy Bronkema sit down each week to discuss how they're going to divide the 20 hours DeShaun Thrower gets to focus on athletics.
These days, with the football team entering Saturday's second-round playoff game and the basketball team in the early portion of its schedule, it's about 16 hours for football, and four for basketball.
But the only math equation that matters to Thrower is this: One plus one equals two. The Muskegon native played a big role in the basketball team winning the Division II national championship in the spring, and now he's gunning for a football ring to match.
"Oh man, that'd be incredible," Bronkema said. "I couldn't be pulling any more for it."
Only one school in Division I has ever won basketball and football national championships in the same season: Florida, in 2009.
It's never been done in Division II, though Northwest Missouri State has been on quite a run of good fortune, with a basketball title in 2017, following football championships in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
The second-ranked Bulldogs (12-0), seeking their first national championship in football, continue their march for history, will play Northwest Missouri State (10-2) at 1 Saturday at Top Taggart Field in Big Rapids. Northwest Missouri State beat Grand Valley State, 42-17, in the first round of the playoffs, in Allendale.
This will be a rematch of the 2016 national semifinal, won by Northwest Missouri State.
Ferris State has a top-50 defense, and against the rush it's No. 21, key in this matchup, as Northwest Missouri State rushed for a program-record 356 yards on 43 carries in the victory over Grand Valley State. A key part of that Ferris State defense is Thrower, a defensive back whose 35 tackles are eighth on the team. Thrower also has a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown, and an interception in his second year playing football for the Bulldogs.
On the basketball court, he's averaging 16 points, having played in three of the team's seven early games. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound guard scored 35 — in just 21 minutes — in Tuesday's 103-92 loss at Findlay, just three days after playing and recording a tackle in the 21-19 victory over Harding in the first round of the football playoffs.
"He's pretty special," said Bronkema, whose team will be without Thrower on Saturday as his basketball team travels to Illinois to play Lewis. "He's built for it, his body is built for it, and so is his mind, too. He's also on his fifth year of education, so his credit load isn't huge. He redshirted a year in both football and basketball, so he got to know the systems. This is his second year playing both, and we (Bronkema and Annese) know more this year (how to handle it) than we did last year."
Thrower, of Muskegon, started his college career playing basketball at Division I Stony Brook, before transferring to Ferris State. He's played basketball this season and last, and has played football the last three seasons.
Fortunately, Bronkema said, he has a good relationship with Annese, and the two are good at working out the shared duties when the seasons overlap.
It's a delicate thing, as health always is a concern. During warmups at the early exhibition at Duke, Thrower hurt his back, and missed time with both sports.
In many situations, that would've thrown the football coach through the roof.
But not at Ferris State.
"There was nothing nasty about it," Bronkema said of his following correspondence with Annese regarding Thrower, who is a senior in basketball and a junior in football, for which he also occasionally returns kicks. "Trust me, I felt as bad as he did.
"We're doing the best we can, and I've got a good partner in crime with it. Tony is all about the kids, he always has been, and that makes it easy."
Thrower's role on both teams has increased this season, significantly. He had six tackles all last season in football, and in basketball, he averaged 7.7 points in 17.1 minutes as Ferris State's top man off the bench for the national champs.
In high school, he won state championships in both football and basketball. He was Mr. Basketball in 2014, and was the runner-up for Mr. Football in 2013 while being named Class A player of the year.
Also in the second round of the Division II playoffs is Hillsdale (10-2), which visits Notre Dame of Ohio (11-0) for a noon game Saturday. Notre Dame, the top seed in the regional, had a bye last week, while Hillsdale beat Kutztown (Pa.), 40-26. This is the second time Hillsdale has made the second round, losing to Grand Valley State in 2009.