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Ferris State’s DeShaun Thrower is ready to make two-sport, two-title history

The point guard/defensive back can win titles in basketball and football

DeShaun Thrower’s day began last month with a Saturday morning breakfast with the Ferris State football team. It continued with a 1 p.m. Division II playoff opener, where he recorded one tackle as a starting defensive back in the team’s physical two-point home win against Harding.

Thrower then rushed home, showered and ate a quick meal before grabbing his bag and hustling over to the Jim Wink Arena just in time to be announced in the starting lineup for Ferris State’s hoops team, which was hoisting its 2018 NCAA Division II men’s national championship banner that night.

“I was pretty banged up from football, but I didn’t want to miss the game,” Thrower said. “To see that banner go up and realize we contributed to the school’s first national championship was special.”

Thrower, who was on that championship team, is now looking to double down. On Saturday, the top-ranked Ferris State football team will play for the Division II national championship against No. 2 Valdosta State in McKinney, Texas.

Winning national championships in both football and basketball in the same school year or same calendar year is rare: In Division I, Florida won the BCS National Championship in January 2007 and followed up three months later with a basketball title; Northwest Missouri State won the Division II football championship in December 2016 and double-dipped with the basketball title three months later. Neither had a player who played both sports.

Thrower, if Ferris State wins on Saturday, would join Chris Davis of Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater as the only players to win NCAA national titles in basketball and football in the same calendar year: Davis was named the 2012-13 D-III National Player of the Year in basketball after leading the Warhawks to a national title in March of 2013 and won another national title that December as a backup tight end on the football team.

“I’ve heard a lot of people talking about that over the last week, but that hasn’t been the major focus for me,” Thrower said. “What I’ve been really thinking about is that this is my last week of playing college football. I just want to finish out my career the right way.”

Ferris State gave DeShaun Thrower a second chance, and he’s making the most of it.

Ferris State Athletics

Thrower’s not one of those two-sport guys who excels at one and takes up the other for conditioning. He’s been a star at both since his days at Muskegon High School, where he was the 2014 Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan while winning a state championship on an undefeated team.

That basketball feat came just months after quarterback Thrower led the football team to the state championship game, earning him the Associated Press Division 1-2 Co-Player of the Year award.

With scholarship offers to play both sports, Thrower chose to focus on basketball at Stony Brook. He started 11 games as a freshman and came off the bench the following season for a Seawolves team that reached its first NCAA tournament in school history in 2016. Thrower scored eight points in the first-round loss to Kentucky.

But the high from that tournament appearance was short-lived. Less than a month after the Kentucky game, Thrower and Stony Brook teammate Rayshaun McGrew were arrested for breaking into a car on campus.

Thrower’s career at Stony Brook was over, and his future in college sports was in jeopardy.

“I surrounded myself with the wrong people, did some things I shouldn’t have been doing and got caught up,” Thrower said. “I took that situation of being a Division I basketball player for granted. And I almost lost everything.”

While the charges were eventually dropped, the stigma of being implicated in a theft remained. As he returned to Muskegon in western Michigan, social media trolls attacked him, some of his friends shunned him and the colleges that had interest in him out of high school wouldn’t touch him.

One school near home embraced him, however: Ferris State, which is just over an hour’s drive from Muskegon.

The school didn’t have a full basketball scholarship to give him. But Tony Annese — the Ferris State football coach who knew of Thrower, having previously worked at the high school he attended — had one to offer.

“He thought he was done with football, but I knew how great he was in high school and we were looking at him as a dual-sport guy,” Annese said. “He probably wouldn’t have had that itch if we didn’t push him.”

Ferris State had established itself as a national power in both sports but had never won a title. That didn’t stop Annese and basketball coach Andy Bronkema from presenting a scenario to Thrower that probably sealed the deal.

“I took that situation of being a Division I basketball player for granted. And I almost lost everything.”

“We said, ‘Come here and win a national title in both sports,’ ” Bronkema said. “We like to dream out loud, and that was said out loud three years ago. That was our calling card to get him here.”

After sitting out the 2016-17 school year, Thrower began his Ferris State athletic career playing on special teams for the football team and earned the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Special Teams Player of the Week award after blocking two punts in the fifth week of the 2017 season.

He was simultaneously playing basketball, averaging 7.7 points while coming off the bench in 35 of the 36 games he played. Thrower scored 20 points off the bench in the Midwest Regional championship game against Findlay, and just 11 days later he hit two 3-pointers in a win over Northern State in the national championship game.

“He took over that game against Findlay for us,” Bronkema said. “He was good enough to start for us last year, but he came off the bench because it was the right mix for our team. He’s a great shooter, he gets to the hole. But it’s his leadership that’s his No. 1 talent.”

While Thrower is starting for both teams this season (he scored 35 points in a loss to Findlay on Nov. 20), his time with basketball has been limited during the football team’s run to the national title game.

On the gridiron, he’s been an asset. In his first collegiate football start in the season opener, Thrower recovered a fumble and ran it back 51 yards for a touchdown, had one interception and recorded four tackles, earning him GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

And Thrower had an interception in the Dec. 8 game that put Ferris State into the national championship game and earned him a chance to wear the team’s turnover belt.

“He’s a vocal leader in our secondary and makes a lot of our coverage calls,” Annese said. “Beyond that, he’s already won a national championship and is a great resource to our guys in terms of what their approach should be.”

That Thrower’s able to perform at a high level on two national championship-caliber teams is a testament to the background of the coaches: Annese is a college football coach who has coached basketball in the past, and Bronkema is a college basketball coach who has previously coached football.

“We meet all the time, and the ground rules are that DeShaun comes first,” said Annese, who agreed to allow Thrower to miss a football game earlier this season so he could play an exhibition basketball game at Duke. “Whatever he wants to do, we’re going to allow him to do it.”

What Thrower wants to do right now is win another national title. And the goal of having two in the same calendar year is well within his grasp.

“When I came here I didn’t know if I wanted to play two sports, but now I’m glad that I did,” Thrower said. “We’re one game away, and I don’t want to say that I played in two national championships.

“I want to say I won two.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.