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For Will Shields, Tuesday was a clear day, and he could see forever. He looked back, enjoyed the moment and saw the landscape of his entire career flash before his eyes. "It's a very special day, and we were informed that we are .0002 percent of the qualified players to be in the Hall of Fame," Shields said before the National Football Foundation's Annual Awards Dinner at New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he became Nebraska's 15th player inducted into College Football's Hall of Fame.
Shields shared four important thoughts with the N-Sider that kept racing through his mind amidst all the hoopla surrounding this historic occasion:
1) Nebraska was the springboard to blossom as a student, an athlete and a man.
2) Silence is still golden.
3) Lincoln helped him learn the value of giving back.
4) Getting paid to play a game you love is the rarest of opportunities.
"Being an offensive lineman, it's unbelievable to be a part of this group," Shields said. "I was so fortunate to be recruited by Nebraska, become a part of its tradition and play under the leadership of (head coach) Tom Osborne and (offensive line assistants) Milt Tenopir and (the late) Dan Young. "They gave me the chance to blossom as a young man. The University of Nebraska is a great place for a kid to go grow and prosper and mature."
Kenny Walker Left Indelible Imprint on Shields
Without so much as a prod, Shields said "a lot of memories reach out and grab you but Kenny Walker was one I'll never forget. He was deaf and couldn't hear on Senior Day. So instead of clapping for him, our fans did a hand wave. It was amazing to be there and know that the whole stadium was silent. All you could see were their hands waving. It was something unique and something that you still carry with you because those were the guys that always made you better and helped you become who you are. They're woven into Nebraska's tradition just like you are."
Again, without a prod, Shields brought up something that remains part of his DNA: "I'll always remember volunteering to become a TeamMate and helping someone in need," he said. "For me, it was the beginning of realizing how you could go out and help your community and how you can become a part of a whole social network. The simple fact of already having a coach there doing that was inspiration enough. It was also a great opportunity to build a bridge between the university and the community and then become a professional athlete and have the opportunity it provided for my family."
Shields credits Nebraska alum Dave Redding for the mindset he endorsed almost daily. "He was my strength coach with the (Kansas City) Chiefs," Shields said of Redding, "and his favorite expression was 'Always remember, they're paying you to play a game you love.' It helped me think about opportunity, history and pure love of the game. It also helped me understand how the game can change your life because you have the opportunity to go out there every single day and represent the values of the University of Nebraska."
Tuesday night, Shields was surrounded by his family, including wife Senia, sons Shavon and Solomon, guardian son Willie Cauley, father Will Shields Jr. and stepmom Shirley Shields, plus members of his "Nebraska family" - Tom and Nancy Osborne, Jo Potuto (Nebraska Faculty Athletic Representative), Chris Anderson (NU Associate Athletic Director) and Paul and Mary Ann Engler (close friends and Texas residents).
Oklahoma Prep Coach Joins the Festivities
Another reserved table for Shields' friends and associates included Clarence Madden, his Lawton, Okla., high school coach that helped him Clear the Way to become an All-American, an Outland Trophy winner, a 12-time All-Pro, the NFL Man of the Year and a Hall-of-Famer who wrote his own book on what it takes to be great.
"All my family was here except one," Shields said. "My daughter (Sanayika) had a practice and a college basketball game Wednesday night. She plays for Drury University (in Springfield, Mo.). We missed her, but she was with us in spirit."
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Voices from Husker Nation
Will Shields, hands down, is my favorite Nebraska football player of all time. He's the whole package as a player, a mentor and a man. Congratulations, Will! Jack Anderson, Omaha, Nebraska
Every time I read a story about Will Shields, I understand why the NFL would make him the Man of the Year. If he doesn't make the NFL Hall-of-Fame in the first year he's eligible to be voted in, something's wrong with their system. Betty Novak, Des Moines, Iowa
Congratulations, Will, and everyone in the family you honor so extremely well! You may be from Oklahoma, but Nebraska will always claim you. You make us all so very proud! Cindy Meyers, Lincoln, Nebraska
I've read the Kenny Walker/Senior Day story before, but it never gets old, especially when a Hall-of-Famer is telling it. What a solid citizen and role model Will Shields is for kids, players, coaches, even all of us that call ourselves fans. We're very proud of you, Will, for this well-deserved honor. Bob Kusik, Grand Island, Nebraska
With Will Shields and Mike Minter both coming to Nebraska and accomplishing what they've accomplished, I say send a recruiter to Lawton, Okla., immediately and clear the way for more just like 'em. Those two are as good as it gets. Lonnie Young, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma