Thrower, Ferris State football eager to join hoops in national title twofer

By Evan Petzold
Special to The Detroit News
Ferris State's DeShaun Thrower, a two-sport star, practices with the team this week.

Big Rapids, Mich. — Up 71-69 with 10 seconds to play, Ferris State men's basketball coach Andy Bronkema called for his defense to make one last stop in Sioux Falls, S.D., on March 24.

Northern State's Ian Smith flipped the ball to Darin Peterka, who fired a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The ball deflected off the front of the rim as time expired. 

And Ferris State was crowned the Division II national champion.

On Saturday in McKinney, Texas, the Ferris State football team (15-0) will aim to take home its own national championship — just 266 days after the men’s basketball team claimed glory. It plays Valdosta State (Ga.) (13-0) at 4 p.m. (ESPNU).

It would become the third Division I or II school to win both high-profile championships in the same year, and Ferris State senior DeShaun Thrower, a guard in basketball and safety in football, has a chance to make history, too, by becoming the first player in NCAA history to win a basketball and football national title in the same season.

That'd be quite the story for an athlete who began his collegiate career playing basketball at Division I Stony Brook, located on Long Island, before the Muskegon native — and former Mr. Basketball — decided to come home.

“Big Rapids is small, but it’s a real good community,” Thrower said following a practice earlier this week. “Since I got here, I’ve met a lot of new people who have embraced me with love. I don’t even feel like a transfer. When they do that off the field and court, it’s my job to repay them and play as hard as I can.”

Thrower, a key reserve in basketball, scored six in Ferris State’s victory against Northern State in the basketball final and averaged 7.7 points in 17 minutes per game. Coach Andy Bronkema repeatedly has told head football coach Tony Annese that the Bulldogs would not have won the championship without Thrower’s efforts. 

The two-sport athlete also sealed a 42-25 win against Minnesota State in the Division II semifinal last weekend with an interception. 

He’s played in three of Ferris State’s 12 basketball games this season, averaging 16 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists while knocking down 57.1 percent of his 3's.

“He missed our Wayne State (football) game to play at Duke,” Annese said of the high-profile exhibition game last month in Durham, N.C.. “It’s been give and take.” 

Thrower played two years of basketball at Stony Brook before deciding to transfer and join Bronkema's team.

When Thrower left for Stony Brook, he had no intentions of playing football again. And even upon transferring to Ferris State, Thrower still did not want to return to football.

Then, Annese came calling. 

“Come out and try it,” Thrower remembers Annese telling him. “If you don’t like it, you can just do basketball.”

“I came out and started getting the love back for it,” Thrower said. “Now, I’m here. Everything happens for a reason.”

He played his first season of Ferris State football in 2017, helping the team make the third round of the playoffs.

He then immediately shifted to basketball, and we all know how that ended.

Then, once the confetti had been swept up, the team had arrived back in west Michigan and much to Annese's surprise, Thrower returned to Big Rapids from the basketball championship game and attended the first possible spring practice.

“I was like, ‘Wow, he came to practice,’” Annese said, with Thrower smiling to his right. “He was there for his team. That’s just an unbelievable commitment.”

The spring game was scheduled for April 14. Thrower asked to play. Annese was hesitant, but ultimately relented.

Thrower returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. 

“We obviously protected him on that play,” Annese said. “We’ve used that as an example. It’s been a strength of our approach this year to get past the mental hurdles to fight hard and keep the season rolling.”

The only Division II program to hold men’s basketball and football titles in the same school year is Northwest Missouri State, which did it in 2016-17. 

Florida remains as the only Division I program to capture the same feat, in 2006-07.

“Everybody is excited and ready to play Saturday,” said Thrower, who has 42 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery on the season. “The two things we focused on in the offseason was mental toughness and team bonding. 

"When you can trust somebody off the field, trusting them on the field is no problem.”

Division II championship game

Who: Ferris State vs. Valdosta State (Ga.)

When: 4 p.m. Saturday, McKinney Independent School District Stadium, McKinney, Texas

Records: Ferris State 15-0; Valdosta State 13-0


Outlook: The game features two Harlon Hill Trophy candidates, in Ferris State QB Jayru Campbell (Detroit Cass Tech) and Valdosta State QB Rogan Wells. The winner is announced Friday.

Evan Petzold is a freelance writer.