Brock Netter, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — There are two things you can never question about Haydn’ Shanks … his toughness and his commitment to be the best he can be.
If you need evidence of that statement, just watch any tape of any game he played last season.
Shanks threw for just under 2,000 yards during his junior year alongside 19 touchdowns. His Tigers finished the season 9-3, and bagged a playoff victory over Gallia Academy … the program’s first postseason win since 2007.
But why is all of that so impressive? It’s a simple answer, really … Shanks played every snap with a torn ACL in his right knee.
“It happened on the final practice of two-a-days,” Shanks recalled, vividly. “I heard the pop and immediately knew I tore my knee up. I got everything checked out and doctors told me it really couldn’t get much worse as long as it was stabilized, so I put a brace on and decided to play. I was only about 50 percent healthy at best, but I wasn’t going to miss the season for our seniors.”
For the most part, it did indeed stay stabilized. However, he had one minor setback, aggravating the injury during a 41-14 loss to Unioto in Week 3.
He missed the following contest, a win against Fairland, before returning for a 48-13 win over Amanda-Clearcreek … one where he threw for a career-best 435 yards and five touchdowns on 24-of-29 passing.
“There were a few times during the season where the pain had a little more sting than usual,” Shanks said. “I would just come out for a couple plays, let the sting go away and then go right back in. Even though I couldn’t run or anything, I knew we could do something special and I got great protection from the guys up front all year.”
Once the season was over, Shanks immediately went into surgery to fix and repair his ACL. That happened the day after Thanksgiving and, while it was the right move, it did have a hefty price to pay. He missed the entirety of his junior basketball season.
While he had hoped to be a key contributor, he watched from the bench as the Tigers finished 19-6 and claimed a Division II sectional championship.
“I love sports and it was tough having to watch my teammates on the floor,” Shanks admitted. “But it still didn’t stop me from being the best teammate I could be from the bench. I was doing physical therapy throughout the season, a ton of leg lifts and various stretch exercises to get the flexibility back.
“Honestly, the whole process taught me that I’m a lot tougher than I thought I was. I’ve seen people with ACL tears before and I always thought to myself that I could never go through that. And then I did, but I played through it as well.”
All those hours of physical therapy and pushing his limits paid off. In April, he posted a workout video of him throwing and showing some mobility in the process.
While he’s not quite 100 percent yet, believe it or not, he’s much healthier now than what he was all of last season … which means the Tigers are reloaded for at least one more run.
Having a healthy Shanks solves a lot of problems. And the Tigers will welcome their field general back with most of his receiving corps still intact.
Make no mistake about it; having weapons like Will Futhey, Zeke Brown, Phoenix Wolfe and an array of others will only help Shanks be better than he’s ever been.
“It was great to be back on the field and throwing with the guys once again,” Shanks said. “Phoenix looks great, he looks completely different than last year. Zeke has put on some more muscle and still has next-level athleticism and Will is a beast. So we’re ready to rock and roll this year.”
The team’s 49-21 loss to Bloom-Carroll in the second round of the playoffs last season showed the Tigers that there’s different levels of preparation when it comes to the postseason.
But it’s those lessons that have the Tigers putting in extra reps during this offseason, even with the COVID-19 pandemic still hanging around.
“Bloom-Carroll just came in and kicked our tails from the opening kick,” Shanks said. “It showed us that we needed to be more physical. But more importantly, we have to become better leaders and that’s been a lot of our focus recently.”
The 2020 high school football season may still be in jeopardy because of the ongoing pandemic. However, if it is played and things return to normal-ish around Southern Ohio, Waverly will be more than ready to get going.
With Shanks under center, completely healthy, Division IV should be put on notice that the Tigers are on a mission.
“It’s our senior year and I believe with the guys we have, we can make a deep playoff run,” Shanks said. “As long as we continue to put in the work, trust the process and show up with a winner’s mentality, we can be one of the best teams to ever come out of Waverly.”