NEW LONDON — To the naked eye, the 2018 New London football team had everything. As a top offensive and defensive team in Class 8-man, Tiger fans knew their squad could go all the way - and that’s just what they did. But despite their successes, the 2018 season was marred by one glaring absense for the majority of the playoff run.
Then junior Shae Summerfield was a key part of the squad’s backfield and defense for the first five games of the season. Through five contests, he averaged 9.4 yards per carry for 150 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and had 57 yards receiving on five catches.
Things started off well for Summerfield in the team’s sixth game, a home tilt with Winfield-Mt. Union, but he was then sidelined with a hip injury that would knock him out for the rest of the season.
“Shae was a key part of our team at the beginning of the season,” says Tiger head coach Mark McSorley. “When he got hurt it was a devastating blow to the team.”
Summerfield says doctors weren’t quite sure how long he would be out when the original injury took place.
“I had no clue what was going on,” Summerfield says. “The first doctor said, ‘He just dislocated it, and it should be back to the way it was.’ Then the second guy I go to tells me I’ll never be able to play sports again.”
Summerfield says he was at a loss for words when the injury first took place, but that he felt crushed when he was told his high school athletic career might be done.
“As soon as I heard that, my eyes just poured tears,” Summerfield says. “I couldn’t stop. I thought my whole sports career might be over.”
At the time of Summerfield’s injury, the Tigers were in the midst of an 82-8 win that brought their record to 6-0 on the year. They were one week away from the biggest game of the year, an undefeated vs. undefeated showdown at Iowa Valley.
The Tigers lost their first game without their junior back, falling to Iowa Valley 22-12 for their only loss of the season. They’d eventually get revenge on that game, beating them 56-20 in the playoffs to advance to the UNI-Dome.
Summerfield had to watch the rest of the Tigers’ games from the sidelines, standing on crutches for a lot of the action, but Coach McSorley says he was still right by his teammates’ side.
“He was still a part of our team,” McSorley says. “He was here and he was supporting the guys. I know that was hard for him to do, because of how bad he wanted to be on the field.”
Summerfield went to the Orthopedics at the University of Iowa, and they told him there was some good news. Since the injury was caught early, they would be able to rehab him back. The doctors told him he’d never be 100 percent, but that he’d be close.
Summerfield says the he struggled mentally with not being able to help the team on the field, but that he also wasn’t happy with the inability to do every-day tasks when he was using the crutches. “The thing I hated most about rehab was that when I was on crutches, everybody had to do everything for me,” he says. “I hate having people do stuff for me. At night I’d go home lal mad because I couldn’t do stuff the way I used to, but through it, when I started walking again, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is going to happen.”
One thing that kept Summerfield going through it all was the ability to watch his friends get it done on the field. He says the one thing he wanted since the beginning of the season was a championship, not only for he and his current teammates, but for group of seniors that eventually went out on top.
“I care about those guys last year, the seniors, so much,” Summerfield says. “They were such big role models. I looked up to them my whole life.”
The Tigers, of course, followed their win over Iowa Valley in the quarterfinals with two wins at the Dome, a thrilling 60-54 overtime win over Fremont-Mills in the semifinals and a 55-14 blowout win in the championship game against Rockford. “I wasn’t even in the game and I was nervous,” Summerfield says. “It was so electric. After that championship game, I turned around to see everyone looking down and cheering, and at that point, I broke into tears (again).”
Flash forward to now. Summerfield is well off the crutches and back in pads, ready to be a leader in 2019. His hip held up for baseball season, where he led the team with a .429 batting average, making second-team All-SEISC in the process.
He’ll be much-needed for New London this season. The Tigers were already replacing their top passer, top two runners and top three receivers from last year, and now Jordan Johnson, their top offensive performer from last season, may be out for the rest of the year with a lower-body injury of his own.
Summerfield says he still feels the hip injury every once in a while, but for the most part, he’s OK.
“Every now and then I’ll have a little tweak in it, if I move it wrong, but it’s nothing major,” he says. “It’s nothing that will stop me from doing what I’m doing. In baseball, I played with a chip on my shoulder, and I play the same way during football.”
The Tigers will open their title defense on Saturday, Aug. 24 at Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Summerfield says he’s ready to get at it and silence any doubt people may have over whether he can still perform.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories coming out of people’s mouths from other schools and what-not, and people around here too,” Summerfield says. “Saying, ‘Oh, he’ll never be able to play. He’ll never be able to do the same thing he used to.’ But I don’t see that at all. I feel better than I did before, because there is a drive in my head that says, ‘You need to show them that you can do it, when they said you can’t.’”