Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
On-field accomplishments during the human drama of athletic competition (thanks, Jim McKay) can help make a player a legend.
Will Shields accomplished enough as a three-year starter as an offensive lineman at Nebraska to be named the school's Big 12 Legend. Shields and the other 11 Legends will be honored this weekend in Kansas City during the Dr Pepper Football Championship game.
Off-field accomplishments, though, can be a measure of a man. By that measuring stick, Shields charity work in the Kansas City area dwarf the 6-3, 315-pound frame that helped him become the 1992 Outland Trophy winner at Nebraska and 11-time Pro Bowl selection while playing with the Kansas City Chiefs. His blocks often helped spring a fellow Big 12 Legend, former Texas running back Priest Holmes.
As an NFL rookie in 1993, Shields started the Will 2 Succeed Foundation. It is dedicated to helping abused, battered and neglected woman and children. To date, the foundation has impacted over 100,000 lives.
"If there’s one kid who we can impact, then our efforts are worthwhile," said Shields, who has contributed over $1 million to his foundation and other charities. "If one child makes better choices and his or her life turns out better, then we have succeeded."
That is just one of the charitable endeavors in which Shields is involved and his dedication to helping others led to him being named the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2003. Shields has a simple explanation of why he helps others: others helped him.
"My parents were very supportive but I had a lot of good people around me," Shields said. "They sort of mentored me to be a mentor to others. I decided that when I got in a position to help others, I would."
Shields grew up in Lawton, Okla., and he became the first Oklahoma high school football player to play for Tom Osborne at Nebraska.
"I liked the combination of athletics and academics at Nebraska," Shields said. "They saw potential in me and they helped increase my aspirations. 'They're going to give me a scholarship to play football? Wow, that's cool.' I was the first person in my family to go to college.
"And, Oklahoma didn't really recruit me."
Shields, who was the defensive lineman of the year in Oklahoma as a senior, also sensed that the Sooners were headed for trouble. Barry Switzer had just been dismissed as coach because of a series of scandals and the football program was headed for NCAA probation.
Despite the fact he left the state to play for the Sooners' biggest rival in the Big Eight Conference, Shields rarely got any grief when he returned home.
"They knew I had good reasons for going to Nebraska," he said. "They understood."
Shields was a part of a production line of Nebraska offensive linemen who resembled side-by-side refrigerators on wheels. In 1992, Shields became the fifth Cornhusker to win the Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top offensive lineman.
The same season, Shields became the last Nebraska offensive lineman to run the "fumblerooskie."
The play, which has since been declared illegal by an NCAA rule change, was a trick play that involved the center snap to the quarterback, who would then lay the ball on the ground. While the offense flowed in one direction, a lineman would pick up the ball and run in another direction.
During Shields' four-year career in Lincoln, the Huskers led the nation in rushing three times. He is one of only six Husker linemen to earn all-conference honors for three straight seasons.
When Shields was a freshman, Osborne started a mentoring program that matched players with youngsters in the community. That gave Shields another glimpse of what and how much he could give back to the community.
And, when he joined the Chiefs in 1993, there were nearly two dozen of his teammates involved in charitable organizations.
"First and foremost, being named a legend means I'm old," said Shields, who owns two fitness centers (68 Inside Sports) in the Kansas City area. "But it's a good thing. And I guess it means that you've accomplished something unique."
Indeed. And for Shields, the achievements have been both on and off the field.