Kershaw goes from uncertain athlete to record-breaking all-stater
Tysen Kershaw wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue playing football after his freshman year of high school.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going,” Kershaw said. “I gave quitting some thought after the last game and into (the offseason). Growing up, basketball was my first love. I was thinking about maybe (concentrating solely) on that.
“I didn’t really turn the corner with football until my sophomore year. That was just a fun season for me; I got better and grew a lot both physically and emotionally. I knew from that point on I had something to work with.”
The recently-graduated Fort Dodge Dodger — named the 2020 recipient of the Henry W. Schultz Award as the school’s top senior male athlete — is at the University of Northern Iowa now, preparing for his FCS career with head coach Mark Farley’s Panthers. Kershaw’s career arc — from possibly never setting foot on the gridiron again less than four years ago to where he is today — shows the importance of both patience and persistence in the ever-changing world of sports.
“I’ve never been afraid to take chances, change my mind or bet on myself,” said Kershaw, who blossomed into a three-year varsity standout and became FDSH’s all-time leading receiver. “I feel like I’m kind of doing the same thing now (at UNI). I know a lot of people are doubting me. But I like the challenge of being a freshman again, having to prove myself, start at the bottom and work my way up.
“In a way, that’s what I did (as a Dodger). I know that if I put my mind to it and make the sacrifices, I’ll get there. It’s already one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, no doubt. It’s crazy to think about being at this level and what it took to reach this point. But I’m not done yet. I’m just getting started.”
The 6-foot-4 Kershaw rewrote the Fort Dodge Senior High record books, finishing in Class 4A’s all-time Top-10 for receptions, yards and touchdowns. Kershaw was the first Dodger ever to eclipse the 2,000-yard receiving mark for his career, closing with 149 receptions for 2,145 yards and an FDSH-best 24 scores.
Kershaw joined Sam Cook as the only FDSH players in the 100-plus year history of the program to earn first team all-state honors in consecutive seasons.
“I’ll definitely miss home football games the most,” Kershaw said. “College is fun and challenging, but it’s hard to know they’re starting practice back in Fort Dodge and I’m not there after spending (the last three seasons) with (the varsity program).
“There’s just something different about playing with the friends you grew up with. It was a special time, and it took me a while to understand and appreciate that. Once I did, I wanted to make the most of it (in football) and improve as much as I could.”
Kershaw also stuck with basketball, where he developed into an all-CIML player and a Top-20 career scorer for the Dodgers. In the spring, Kershaw turned to track, where he was a multi-time state qualifier.
A year ago, Kershaw teamed with classmates Brycen Bell, Asle Thorson and then-sophomore Tyler Schreier to medal at the state meet in the 4×200. Kershaw, Bell, Schreier and sophomore Sam Daniel broke the school record and also medaled in the 4×100.
Both quartets would have returned intact this past spring, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“It was hard for all of us to not have (the spring season due to the COVID-19 global pandemic),” Kershaw admitted. “We had big plans and lofty goals. There’s just so much that was left on the table, and we’ll always have to wonder what-if.
“It was out of our control, so we had to accept it and move on. But I think we could have done some special things together.”
Kershaw was a “little overwhelmed” when he heard about the Schultz Award recognition, given both the history of the honor and the talent his class produced.
“I was flattered that the coaches and teachers saw me in that light — that I was worthy of it,” Kershaw said. “And so many of my friends and teammates deserved it just as much as me. There were plenty of other great candidates. So when you look at that and go back almost 100 years (with the names of prior winners), it was pretty incredible to find out I’d won it.”
Kershaw said his parents, Cori and Robert, “of course have been my No. 1 influences, both in helping me grow as an athlete and as a person.” He also thanked all of his coaches, and singled out assistant Willie Williams in particular.
“He was there for me in all three sports. Early on, he told me he’d always be around if I ever needed to talk or whatever,” Kershaw said. “I felt comfortable going to him, knowing I could trust him and he’d be honest with me about what I needed to do — especially when I was a sophomore and decided to get serious about football.”
Williams suffered a sudden and severe stroke this past February at the age of 28. Though his health was in question for quite some time during the recovery process, Williams is now back at home with his wife and two children.
“I knew he’d fight and make it through all along,” Kershaw said. “I was scared for him, of course, but I didn’t have any doubts he’d make it back in the long run. He’s strong. He’s mentally tough.
“It was crazy when it happened, because you never think someone his age would have to go through that — especially as a former athlete himself. But that’s why you can’t take anything for granted. I think since that happened, our friendship has become even stronger.”
With the UNI football season on the shelf until at least spring as the country continues to battle the novel coronavirus, Kershaw is focused on learning the ropes while controlling what he can during his redshirt campaign. He’ll the first Dodger to play for the Panthers on the gridiron in nearly a quarter of a century.
“We’re meeting on Sunday to talk about what’s next,” Kershaw said. “My plan is to just keep putting in the work and whatever happens, happens. I’m already learning a lot about self-discipline and being more responsible, living on my own for the first time and keeping a tight schedule.
“I’ve always wanted to be remembered as someone who competes like it’s the last time. I don’t want to have any regrets when it comes to anything I do. The last thing I want is to walk away from a situation feeling like I could’ve done more. So that’s the approach I’ll take (to being at UNI), just like I did as a Dodger.”