- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - Will Shields came of age in 1980s Lawton. A lot has changed here since.

But not everything.

“Last night, coach (Clarence Madden’s) twins came in and they had Wayne’s Drive Inn cups. That’s something that brings memories back. There’s so many streets around here that have different memories,” Shields said.

As a kid, Shields wove his bicycle through town and beat paths through city parks with Adrian Lunsford, his best friend, who would eventually become his teammate playing for Madden, an assistant at Lawton High when the Wolverines went 14-0 and won a state championship in 1987.

Their career paths split after that, The Lawton Constitution (http://bit.ly/292KHQx) reports. Shields to Nebraska, then 14 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Lunsford to Iowa Wesleyan, then an 11-year arena league career. Madden continuing the nomadic life that high school coaches lead.

But it’s funny how a circle of friends can tie a place together, or in some ways keep it pieced together, to make the new feel like old again.

Shields recently held his first youth football camp in Southwest Oklahoma since his 2015 NFL Hall of Fame induction. Madden, Shields, Dewell Brewer, and head coach of the ‘87 title team, Derald Ahlschlager, once again walked the same field together, dishing on sports, food, the past - anything.

Madden coached linemen on that team, which forged the iron bond with Shields. Madden was present at the Hall ceremony, as was Lunsford, whom Shields chose as his presenter.

The trip to Canton, Ohio, was something. But the reunions on Lawton soil where everyone began are something all their own. Shields’ presence is usually the starting point. And where there’s Shields, there’s Lunsford.

“It’s always great when he comes back, you know, because this is where he’s from, this is where he grew up. It just brings back a lot of old memories,” Madden said. “Same way with Adrian. They both played together. When they come back, they always come together. When everybody gathers it makes for a fun time. It’s something to look forward to any time we can get it done, especially with his busy schedule.”

There’s no certain sight or smell that brings it all back for Shields. It’s everything. Bicycle Park, as he remembers calling it, where he and Lunsford used to hang for hours. The elementary school basketball courts they’d hoop at during weekends. An apartment complex that always had a few military guys hanging around, anxious for a pickup game.

“It was a blast,” Shields said of growing up.

They were kids, which as Shields pointed out, is a person’s last real shot at pure fun. The worries and pressures of adulthood are still years away, but at times feel even further than that. It’s blissful.

Some of that was briefly recaptured this week among grown men. Football war stories flew fast on the steamy turf at Ulrich Stadium in Cache, the site of Shields’ camp. Jokes, some at the expense of themselves, lit up like scoreboards. Barbecues were planned and Gatorades were swigged through smiles.

“You’ve got to have pretty thick skin,” Madden said. “We’re always getting on each other.”

When Ashlschlager strolled out to midfield to catch up with the gang, Lunsford quickly inquired about finding some time to fish with his old coach. Lunsford loves the outdoors and said it’s the Wichita Mountains that have always reminded him he’s home during visits back. Ahlschlager assured him he knew where to find some bass.

All of “the kids” getting back together reminded Ahlschlager of, well, a lot of things.

“Adrian, you know, told me he’s about to be a granddaddy,” Ahlschlager said. “Coach (former LHS defensive line coach Leeroy) Horn used to call him ‘Sweetpea.’ I don’t know (where it came from). He was small. He had a hard time making 100 (pounds). I think when he showed up (in high school) he was 119 pounds.

“Coach Horn said, ‘If you can ever make 130 pounds I’ll consider playing you.’ Adrian, he’ll tell you this story. The year we won State, he had rocks in his pockets so he could weigh 130 pounds. That’s how he tells it anyway.”

Ahlshlager went on marveling about Shields. About how long-armed he was, about the tremendous balance he possessed in pass protection, about how how he wasn’t a huge fan of the weight room but could still “squat the house.” He grinned big remembering how when Shields came over from Tomlinson Elementary, the coaching staff scrambled to find him a pair of triple-XL pants.

“Will was a very unique kid,” the coach said.

A standout even among standouts.

Locals know the names of the ‘87 team by heart, like a folk tale. There was James Trapp, an Olympic gold medalist on the track. Kelly Stinnett played 14 years of Major League Baseball. Brewer rushed for more than 2,000 yards at OU before a brief NFL career. To get even a sliver of them back together, for any amount of time, is worth keeping an open ear.

Especially when it comes to the praise they heap on Shields, who became the most nationally visible of the group, and has made philanthropy part of his life’s mission.

“Not a little, a lot,” Brewer said how much Shields has given back. “It’s not very often you get one of these. There’s not many hall of famers around, period. But to have someone come back like this - he’s a strong giver, he’s very approachable. It’s very important to make people realize what we have coming back here.”

Lunsford has always recognized it.

“I don’t think (the kids) will realize the magnitude until they get older,” he said. “Eventually they’ll realize, ‘Man, we had this guy at our camp. This was a guy I could socialize with, walk up and touch, feel.’”

That’s a view that an adolescent Shields may not have held of anyone - he was too competitive for sports heroes.

“I looked at all these different guys like, ‘Oh, this guy’s good or he’s good,’ but it always came back to the point where I was like: ‘I could block him.’ You’ve got to have that mindset. You know, there wasn’t a guy I could say I emulated,” Shields said.

Not on the field, anyway.

“What it comes down to is I had teachers and great coaches who were always around, and I had a great mother and father who kept me in place.”

And he had great friends. Still does.

With the old group in full swing the other day, flipping stories back and forth, Shields said someone pointed out how rare it was that high school friends could reconnect so well, so quickly, if at all. People grow apart. People change. They forget.

Lawton’s biggest sports figure has done all he can to keep that from happening.

And apparently, he’s winning.

___

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com

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