MOUNT AYR – There are not a lot of differing opinions about Mount Ayr’s John Shields.
That may be construed as a negative, but then you wouldn’t be talking about the same man.
In the eyes of so many Raiders, Shields is the premiere example of what a high school athlete should be.
His hard work ethic and determination to never rely solely on his athletic ability is why Shields is the 2019 South Central Iowa Male Athlete of the Year.
In terms of his athletic ability, Shields was a grinder day in and day out to be the best that he could be and his coaches and fellow players took notice.
“He was one of a core group of kids from their middle school years that was just very committed to the weight room and would do all the extra work,” said Mount Ayr co-football head coach Delwyn Showalter. “If they’re times that they could come in that weren’t required, they were going to do that.”
Though his high school days are behind him, both of his football coaches fondly remembered Shields’ commitment in his middle school days.
Showalter’s fellow co-head coach Derek Lambert remembered that John strove to be the best he could be even when simply trying to master the proper lifting technique.
“That’s something that John has always done, is be committed. It’s hard to put into words of what he has done for our program, for Raider football, for our strength and condition program. He’s set such a tremendous example of coming to work every day,” said Lambert.
The grind wasn’t just in the weight room as Shields and the Raiders were forced to slug through a 3-6 year, during his junior season.
Even with the team struggles, he still finished tied for the team lead in tackles with 56 1/2.
Showalter knew the season was hard on him, especially given that he broke his wrist in the final game of the year – a loss to Interstate 35.
Shields battled back and used his senior season to let southwest Iowa know he was fully committed to returning Raider football to the top.
When the dust had settled, Shields had 24 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, both numbers that ranked him in the top 15 in the state and earned him a first team all-state selection by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.
He was named to the Des Moines Register’s all-Iowa football team at defensive line and helped carry the Raiders to a 7-3 record, which included the school’s first playoff berth since 2015.
He ended his career with 171 total tackles.
On top of his defensive prowess, Shields doubled as a center for Mount Ayr, but getting through the offensive line was his bread and butter.
“I’ve always had more of a defensive mentality in football, which is more fun to me,” said Shields. “Defense is a lot of fun. I just enjoyed getting there and making plays.”
It was his sophomore season when Shields began to realize he could cause some havoc on the football field.
His first start came in week three against Central Decatur where the Mount Ayr lineman posted 5 1/2 tackles and figured out that he could make an impact.
“I think it was my third game where I led the team in tackles that game and earned a starting spot and sort of figured out that I was pretty good at the sport,” said Shields.
Coincidentally enough, Lambert also remembers a contest against Central Decatur as one of the most telling moments of Shields’ dominance.
“He had such a long wingspan and you would think that their running back or quarterback was out of his reach. Yet, he would grab a hold of them with one hand and pull them down with one arm,” said Lambert. “That’s something that is etched in my mind.”
A modest and humble man, Shields set his leadership examples through show not tell and all of his coaches realized the impact his dedication had on those around him.
His influence on the basketball court and the track was one again highlighted by his willingness to get better behind the scenes.
Though he wasn’t a prolific scorer, averaging about eight points and eight rebounds per game over the course of his career, Shields’ value on the defensive end was unmatched, according to head coach Bret Ruggles.
“If anyone has watched us play, John had held our defense. We have not had to worry about the lane in the last two years,” said Ruggles. “He has completely shut that thing off for all offenses.”
He ended his career with 503 points, 444 rebounds, 78 steals and 71 blocks, but his presence alone changed the game.
Opposing football teams tried to get away from Shields and the same fear factor stayed true on the hardwood as Ruggles stated teams adjusted to him rather than trying to play through him.
“His presence forced offenses to adapt to him. That’s an impactful player,” said Ruggles. “... (Impactful players) always have to be part of a game where an offense or a defense has to change the way they do things because of you.”
He ran track his freshman, sophomore and senior seasons with a stint of golf during the spring of his junior year.
As a senior he was selected as a alternate for the 4x800 state qualifying relay team.
Though football was his favorite sport to play, the intensity of track practice perfectly encapsulated his attitude on wanting to get better.
“I definitely enjoyed the practices. They’re really tough, they’re really hard to do, but it's fun when everyone else is also in pain,” said Shields. “It’s probably the most team sport we have, even though it's mostly individual. The mentality you have at practice, it’s just awesome to be a part of.”
In all three sports he was selected to the academic all-state teams, proving his determination wasn’t just based around athletic success.
Battling through adversity
The drive to stay in peak athletic condition came from an early age and a young desire to join the military.
Shields said it was a long-time goal of his to join the armed forces and one that he had set his sights on as a youngster.
Despite the tireless work ethic, life threw a curveball at Shields in the form of back spasms, which flared up over the course of his basketball career.
Those same uncontrollable pains forced him out of the Iowa State ROTC program he was set to join this summer and dashed his childhood dreams.
“I’ve wanted to do the military for a long time,” said Shields. “... I just started have back spasms and the doctor sent me home.”
Initially frustrated by the change in life plans, Shields said by the time it took for his paperwork to get sorted out and for him to come home, he had figured out a new path.
“I had plenty of time to think about what I want to do. I got through it in those three days and kind of figured out that I’d be all right.”
As of now, Shields plans to pursue becoming an electrician through Southwestern Community College and said he’s ready to move forward from his athletic career to pursue new challenges.
Building blocks and lasting legacy
All of Shields’ coaches said the same thing.
John resembles his family and his dedication has come from those before him such as his parents, Mike and Shelly.
“He’s the type of guy that you would definitely want to be dating your daughter,” said Lambert. “He’s a great worker, he’s very up front, he’s always going to look you in the eye and he is very respectful.”
Shields will not be quickly forgotten by his coaches as he tried to help push athletes to strive for as much success in the weight room.
Lambert admits he helped build the strength and condition program up to what it is now and knows that his commitment has left an impression on those around the community, including his son.
And that’s how Shields wants to be remembered.
He wanted to find those who are willing to work as hard as possible to be the best they can be.
“Just the amount of time I put in in the weight room. I want people to do work just as hard as I did,” Shields said.
Shields admits he won’t ever be the most vocal guy, but everyone around him knows it’s hard to put into words the amount of willpower behind the 2019 South Central Iowa Male Athlete of the Year.