By Victor Skinner
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – Muskegon Big Red quarterback Shaun Pfenning is not DeShaun Thrower.

Some might even say he’s the opposite of the all-everything playmaker he’s been tapped to replace during his senior year of varsity football.Shoreline football instory art

“He could turn a play that’s bad and score on anything … so it’s real hard to step up into those shoes,” Pfenning said of his predecessor.

Thrower, the 2014 Mr. Basketball and All-State quarterback, led the Big Reds to two consecutive Division 2 state football playoff finals at Detroit’s Ford Field, only to lose to Birmingham Brother Rice both years. With speed and agility unmatched by most in the state, Thrower was known for making big plays by simply outrunning his opponents, if necessary.

But Pfenning, who served as backup behind Thrower last season and occasionally filled in as a linebacker throughout his high school career, plays a different style of football that has thus far been equally as effective.

Muskegon's Shawn Pfenning breaks free from Detroit Catholic Central during Week 1. Photo/Tim Reilly

Muskegon’s Shawn Pfenning breaks free from Detroit Catholic Central during Week 1. Photo/Tim Reilly

“I give everyone else around me the ball,” Pfenning said.

The 5’ 11”, 190-pound senior has led the Big Reds to four consecutive wins to open the season, including a big 21-14 victory in the season opener at home against state powerhouse Detroit Catholic and an impressive come-from-behind victory against Grand Rapids Christian in week two.

In the third game, Pfenning quarterbacked the Big Reds to a victory over Grandville – the same team he beat in his first and only previous start at quarterback, during his freshman year. And on Friday he led Muskegon to an impressive 37-7 win over East Grand Rapids.

It might have been Pfenning’s best game to date. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown, and ran for two more touchdowns.

“We feel he understands his role, and his job is to give the playmakers the ball and make good decisions,” Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield said. “We’ve made some mistakes, but there are a lot of teams that have made mistakes that are (winless).

“I think it’s just being a facilitator, and not having the whole game focused on me, so we can use all our possible weapons,” Pfenning said, pointing to receivers like Alezay Coleman and Joeviair Kennedy, who can outjump most opponents, and running backs like Keonte’ Whiteside and Caleb Washington, who have the ability to break out on the ground.

“We’re not a one superstar team, we have a lot of kids who can make plays,” Pfenning said. “I think that once we start gelling together … I can get to where I become a threat too.”

“This year, we have our running backs, slots, receivers all with touchdowns,” Fairfield said.

Fairfield said Pfenning is already showing signs of providing the type of leadership the Big Reds need at the helm.

After three lost fumbles put Muskegon down by 11 in the first half against Grand Rapids Christian, the team stuck with it and Pfenning ultimately rallied the Big Reds to a riveting 29-21 victory Sept. 5 at Hackley Stadium.

“Our offense could have packed it up,” Fairfield said. “He’s a quarterback with a linebacker’s mentality. We like his toughness.”

Stepping into the limelight after several seasons in the shadow of a giant like Thrower can be daunting, Pfenning said. But the first four games have given him the experience he needs to focus on the task at hand.

“Everybody looks at you and you have to lead the team down the field and score. It’s one of those positions that if you’re on top everybody is with you, but if you have a bad game people start to get their doubts,” Pfenning said.

“You have to kind of shrug it off. I had to do that a lot in the Grand Rapids Christian game.”

The first few games – particularly the season opening win against Detroit Catholic and the comeback win against Grand Rapids Christian – have helped to create a bond between this year’s Big Reds, according to Pfennning.

He believes that camaraderie might be the key component necessary to finally claim a state championship.

“Our team this year is more close … like brothers,” he said.

“Almost everyone on the team hangs out together,” which wasn’t always the case in the past, Pfenning said. “It helps us knowing that even if you mess up a play … the whole team is like ‘we got this.’

“We’re making simple mistakes right now, but I think every week we will get better and better. If we have a good game, we’re really going to put up some points on somebody.”