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20 YEARS OF STATE CHAMPS! 20 STATE CHAMPIONS SERIES: 2017 MUSKEGON BIG REDS

By: SCOTT BURNSTEIN, November 23, 2022, 8:23 am

 

Muskegon — Muskegon’s La’Darius Jefferson finished off his run to 2017‘s Mr. Football award by unspooling a spectacular effort in the Division 3 state championship game, gashing Farmington Hills Harrison for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground in a dominating 28-10 win. Jefferson’s magical outing under the bright lights of Ford Field spoiled legendary Harrison head coach John Herrington’s state finals swan song.

The young man was on a mission. And so was his team.

Jefferson played quarterback for Muskegon as a senior. During Jefferson’s junior campaign, he started at running back and got spot duty under center for a Big Reds club that fell to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 29-28 in a state-finals heartbreaker in 2016 that went down to the last play.

“I wasn’t going to let that loss to St. Mary’s be my final memory of playing at Ford Field, I made sure we came out and left no doubts (this year,)” Jefferson said. “We played great all year long.”

Storied Harrison would shutter less than two years later, leaving the school’s state-record 13 state-championship banners nowhere to hang. Herrington, the architect of Harrison’s five-decade dynasty. left the head-coaching ranks following the 2018 season as the winningest coach in MHSAA history.

On the Westside of the state, Muskegon has a rich gridiron legacy all its own to preserve and build upon.

The 2017 crown was Muskegon’s sixth overall in Big Reds program history and vanquished a 4-game losing streak in the state finals. Muskegon went a perfect 14-0 that fall, giving head coach Shane Fairfield his first title. The team manhandled opponents to the tune of outscoring them 722-88.

“We played championship-caliber football the entire season, we knew what it took to be punched in the mouth, swallow the blood and scrap right back,” Fairfield. “We learned from the pain of the past and it fueled our quest to bag one of these state titles for ourselves, leave a mark that will be remembered.”

Fairfield’s troops did just that.

The Big Reds defense spun shutouts in half of the squad’s game. Entering the state finals, Muskegon’s ‘D’ had blanked DeWitt 49-0 in the regionals and then dropped Harper Creek 42-0 in the semifinals. The seven shutouts was a school record. Linebacker Te’Andre Evans (Mount Union), defensive ends Billie Roberts (Bowling Green) and Eli Jackson (Alabama A&M) and cornerback Willie Shanks (Ferris State) headlined the unit.

Jefferson scored a gaudy 54 touchdowns in 2017, racking up 2,100 yards rushing. His blocking was elite, with an offensive line led by 4-star college recruits Antwan “A.J.” Reed (Western Michigan-ASA College Brooklyn) and Anthony Bradford (LSU).

Beginning his college football career in the backfield at Michigan State, Jefferson currently starts at running back for Western Michigan. Besides Mr. Football. he was also awarded the Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Michigan in 2017.