By Adam Turer
Cecil Shorts has his eye on what's ahead -- the
finish line and a shot at the second title for this Mount Union
This is why he came back. This is why he wanted to take on an even bigger role this season. This is why he waited patiently while recovering from injury, watching from the sidelines and looking for any edge to help his teammates. Cecil Shorts III knows that he only has at most two more opportunities to put on a Purple Raiders uniform. He is determined to end his storied and record-setting career by bringing the Stagg Bowl trophy back to Alliance, Ohio.
“It’s the tradition here to go deep in the playoffs,” said Shorts. “Every year I’ve been here, we’ve played for the national championship. It’s been a blessing.”
Shorts’s five years at Mount Union have not gone exactly as planned. A high school quarterback, Shorts came to Alliance intent on competing for the starting nod at that position. An injury forced him to miss most of his freshman season. That too turned out to be a blessing, as it enabled Shorts to use his extra year of eligibility this season. After seeing limited action as a backup quarterback and wide receiver in 2007, Shorts made the full transition to wide receiver.
In just three full seasons at the position, Shorts has become the Purple Raiders’ all-time leading receiver with more than 3,500 yards.
“It was a rough transition at first,” said Shorts. “I wanted to play quarterback. I thought about transferring, but I stuck it out.”
His quarterback skills give Shorts an edge that other receivers might not possess. He can read defenses like a quarterback and he knows how to best communicate with his quarterback. Each of his three seasons as a starting receiver, Shorts has had a different starting quarterback, but he has been able to quickly develop a strong relationship with each one.
“I know where the quarterback wants me to be and I can help the quarterback read coverages,” said Shorts. “I’m still learning. I’ve only played wide receiver for three years. I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
Understatements aside, Shorts has worked very hard to become Mount Union’s top receiver and the 2009 D3football.com Offensive Player of the Year. He has also established himself as a bona fide NFL draft prospect, with prognosticators suggesting Shorts could be as high as a fourth-round pick in April. Shorts credits those small-school players that came before him, including his former teammate and mentor Pierre Garçon, for shedding light on the talented players in all divisions of college football.
“I watched Pierre in practice, the way he blocked and ran routes,” said Shorts. “Then after he graduated, I watched film on him. I try to emulate him and do even better than he did. Pierre, London Fletcher, Danny Woodhead, Miles Austin — those guys opened the door for players like me to get recognized.”
Pro scouts have been attending Mount Union practices this season. After Shorts put up 178 receptions for 3,220 yards and 42 touchdowns in the previous two seasons, the spotlight was shining on him.
“I was a little nervous the first time a scout came to practice,” admitted Shorts. “Now, I just play and let my actions speak for themselves.”
One of the biggest beneficiaries of Shorts’s talents and knowledge of the game has been sophomore quarterback Neal Seaman. Seaman battled Shorts and Kurt Rocco for the starting quarterback job last season and honed his skills by backing up Rocco for a year. He has played like a veteran, in large part thanks to the veteran targets he has in tight end Kyle Miller and Shorts.
“When I drop back, I know he’ll get open no matter what the coverage is,” said Seaman of Shorts. “He runs great routes.”
Shorts has embraced the leadership role on an otherwise young team. Several sophomores and juniors start on both sides of the ball for the Purple Raiders.
“Starting at quarterback as a sophomore at Mount Union is a big deal,” said Shorts. “It brings a lot of pressure, but Neal has handled it well.”
The leadership of the senior class has helped Seaman and running back Jeremy Murray have breakout years. When Shorts missed four games this season with a toe injury, his teammates rallied to fill in.
“It was different and frustrating not being able to help or contribute,” said Shorts. “I think it helped me get my mind right and get even more focused. My whole mindset was to come back better than I ever was before.”
The first time he touched the ball upon his return, Shorts took a kickoff 80 yards to the house. Shorts has scored 13 touchdowns in the five games since his return from injury. He had never returned punts or kickoffs prior to this season, but approached his coaches before the season and talked about playing more special teams. Shorts has scored three return touchdowns this season.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s worked out well,” said Shorts of adding return specialist to his repertoire. “It’s real exciting. You can change the game like that.”
Bethel last faced Mount Union in the playoffs in 2007 and the Royals were torched by Garçon. Shorts even saw mop-up action at quarterback and ran for a touchdown in the 62-14 blowout. This time around, Shorts figures to be the game-changer.
Royals defensive coordinator Jimmie Miller remembers that 2007 game, but would probably like to forget it.
“Shorts is a pretty explosive player,” said Miller. “We didn’t do too good against Pierre in 2007. They always have an explosive offense. Shorts and Miller will put a lot of pressure on our secondary.”
Shorts was one of the underclassmen on the 2007 team, when Mount Union lost to UW-Whitewater in the Stagg Bowl. He remembers how bad he felt for his senior teammates that day. Now that he is entering the final stretch of his playing days at Mount Union, he is trying to lead by example for his younger teammates.
“It’s a different feeling when you’re a senior,” said Shorts. “Every game can be your last. I can’t explain it to the younger guys, but they can see my focus. I do not want this to end yet.”
Seaman sees the focus of his senior teammates and is just as eager to wash away the bad taste of last year’s second-place finish. The Purple Raiders are not overlooking Bethel this week. They know how important each game is to the program and especially to the seniors.
“We want to get a championship for the seniors,” said Seaman. “They deserve it. They are always encouraging us to keep our head up. It helps that they are great players, too. We’ll bust our butt and do everything we can to get them two more wins.”