Keondre DeShields loved playing football growing up, but a scary injury in his seventh grade season nearly put a wrap on his career.
“They said I could have been paralyzed,” DeShields recalled of a collision on a kickoff that sent him to the hospital.
DeShields turned out to be OK, but there would be no football for him in eighth, ninth or 10th grade. Finally, just prior to his junior year, DeShields sat down with his dad, William; close friend Rodney Gallagher; and Gallagher’s dad, Rod, to discuss the possibility of playing again.
“My dad was always telling me that I needed to play again,” said DeShields, who by the end of his sophomore season was already known as one of the WPIAL’s top basketball talents. “After talking with him, Rod and big Rod, they all said I should do it.”
It turned out to be great advice. Not only will DeShields get a free education, but he also will get to play football at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
DeShields, a senior at Laurel Highlands and one of the WPIAL’s top all-around athletes, signed his letter of intent Wednesday with Saint Francis of Loretto, Pa., in a ceremony at Laurel Highlands. DeShields, who is 6 foot 3, 200 pounds, was recruited by Saint Francis to play wide receiver.
DeShields, who attended Uniontown High School his freshman year, played only two seasons of high school football, but he certainly did make the most out of them. He finished his Laurel Highlands career with 69 catches for 1,042 yards to go along with 15 touchdowns. As a junior, he helped the Mustangs win a playoff game for the first time in school history. His senior year, the Mustangs won another. DeShields finished among the WPIAL’s receiving leaders last season with 46 catches for 668 yards and 8 touchdowns, one of the scores coming on a 102-yard interception return.
The only possible regret DeShields has is that he didn’t return to the sport sooner.
“My 11th grade season opened a lot of eyes,” he said. “If I played my whole high school career, I would have had way more offers.”
But DeShields said he is happy to receive the ones he did. One of them was Saint Francis, which extended DeShields his first offer last May. DeShields visited the school in December and came away impressed.
“I thought it was a really good school,” said DeShields, who said he is thinking about majoring in sports management. “I liked the coaches and I liked how it wasn’t too big.”
DeShields also had an offer from IUP, as well as preferred walk-on opportunities from West Virginia and Penn State. But just like Gallagher, a West Virginia football recruit, DeShields knew he had to make a choice between playing football or basketball in college. DeShields leads Laurel Highlands in scoring this season with 23.2 points a game, and the high-flying shooting guard held a basketball offer from Pitt-Johnstown.
“A few weeks after my visit [to Saint Francis], I decided that I was going to go for football,” DeShields said. “I like them the same, but I feel like football is my better option.”
More Quips commitments
Considering the success of its team, it should come as no surprise that Aliquippa had a number of football players Wednesday signing national letters of intent. Making the event a little unique, though, is that so many of the players waited until that day to make their decisions public.
Breaking their big news Wednesday was safety D.J. Walker (Ohio), lineman Neco Eberhardt (Albany), defensive back Nate Lindsey (Fordham), lineman Jason McBride (IUP), wide receiver Dorius Moreland (Bethany) and linebacker Isaiah Martinez (Waynesburg). Previously announcing his commitment was lineman Naquan Crowder (California). That means that of the team’s nine seniors, seven will continue their careers in college. Those players all played big parts in the Quips winning the WPIAL Class 4A championship and finishing as the PIAA runner-up in 2022.
“It’s a blessing for real,” Walker said. “I actually cried because of how proud I am of us and how proud our community is of us. Even with us coming up short [in their state championship bid], they were behind us, and that’s going to stick with me and my teammates forever. This senior class is so tight. We got to play for coach Mike [Warfield]. It’s a blessing. These are the moments you talk about when you’re 40.”
Walker (6 feet 1, 170 pounds) was the most heavily recruited player of the bunch. He had more than a dozen offers, including a few other Mid-American Conference schools, Air Force and Navy. A standout wide receiver and defensive back at Aliquippa, Walker paced the Quips in receiving with 35 catches for 591 yards and scored 6 touchdowns. He also led the team with 7 interceptions and had 2 sacks.
Walker said his decision ultimately came down between Ohio, Eastern Michigan, Albany and Holy Cross. One of the biggest perks of playing at Albany was to play with his brother, Larry, a defensive back for the Great Danes. But Walker said the persistence of the Ohio coaches paid off. The Bobcats offered Walker in May 2022.
“I feel like it was the relationship I had with the coaches,” he said. “They always check up on me. The players are cool. And it’s a nice, beautiful campus.”
Baldwin’s Logan Murphy (California); Beaver’s Omari Smith (Saint Francis); Bishop Canevin’s Braden Travis (Seton Hill); Central Valley’s Jackson Tonya (IUP); Cornell’s Cagney Smith (California); Cornell’s Raequan Troutman (Lake Erie); Hempfield’s Will Nelson (RPI); Mt. Lebanon’s Johnny McGhee (Saint Francis); North Allegheny’s Andrew Gavlik (Mercyhurst); Norwin’s Anthony Petrulo (Clarion); Norwin’s Noah Vogel (IUP); Pine-Richland’s Matt Nicely (Wheeling); Pine-Richland’s John Rottinghaus (Duquesne); Serra Catholic’s Amire Spencer (Clarion); Union’s Kaden Fisher (Slippery Rock); West Mifflin’s Peyton Yuhas (Edinboro); Westinghouse’s Khalil Taylor (California); Woodland Hills’ DeVaughn McClinton (Youngstown State); Woodland Hills’ Cruz McMillan (Central State).
Bethel Park’s Cody Geddes (Mercyhurst); Chartiers Valley’s Brendan Cruz (Washington & Jefferson).
Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.