Goss: This lineman’s game is tennis
May 9, 2012 9:32PM
Collin Shea, Joliet West co-op.
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:38AM
A rare combination, to say the least.
A football player who also stars on the tennis court?
“You say that, and you think you must be talking about a skill player,” Joliet West football coach Jason Aubry said, referring to a quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back, someone from that fraternity.
But an offensive tackle? In this era when O-linemen, even on the high school level, are huge?
Joliet West senior Collin Shea has played both sports throughout his high school career. He gained weight out of necessity for football and lost weight for tennis.
“Have you seen him?” said Aubry, who also coaches the West boys track team. “He is as skinny as a rail. He dropped a bunch of weight, and his speed and agility are so good because of that.”
“I played football last fall at 240 or so,” said the 6-foot-4 Shea, who weighs about 215 pounds as tennis season enters the stretch run, with the West co-op hosting the SouthWest Suburban Blue Tournament on Thursday and Saturday and the sectional next week.
“I was 250 at my highest in the summer. I was trying to gain at that point. Right when the (football) season ended, I started playing more tennis and not lifting.”
“Collin always had great feet as an offensive lineman,” Aubry said. “That serves him well in tennis.”
Small colleges were interested in Shea for football, but he chose tennis and will continue that pursuit at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., which sports a perennial top-20 tennis team in NCAA Division III.
“Going there is mostly based around academics,” he said, “but tennis plays a part. I’m not really sure what I want to study, but I know they have good academics.
“In was in contact with coaches in football, but I knew tennis in the long haul would be better. I’m better at tennis (he has been on the varsity all four years) and football really takes a toll take on your body.”
Shea, who did not play football until high school, said he would do nothing different if he had a mulligan.
“I have loved playing both sports,” he said. “I know I sacrificed any chance to go Division I in tennis by playing football, but it was a great experience.”
Shea was an All-SouthWest Suburban Blue selection in football in the fall, a third-team Herald-News All-Area pick, an Academic All-Stater and West’s offensive player of the year. He is headed for a third straight state appearance in tennis, having gone with Ben Bachtler in doubles as a sophomore, in singles as a junior and it will be in doubles this spring.
In fact, he and partner Jack Carney, a junior, enter the conference tourney 20-1 and are aiming at a high state seed.
“We’re having a good year,” said Shea, who lost to Carney in last year’s sectional singles final as the West co-op claimed the first Joliet Township Sectional title in 22 years. “Our goal is to win the sectional, but that’s only a little of our focus. We want to advance far at state.
“To finish in the top 32 would be an accomplishment, but hopefully we can make the top 16. A lot will depend on the draw and where we’re seeded.”
Their record suggests a top-16 seed is possible, but there is a caveat. “We have not faced that many really tough opponents, so getting a top-16 may be tough,” Shea said. “We’ve just had to push through that.”
“Their only loss was to an Edwardsville team that is in the top eight, and we gave them a good battle,” West co-op coach Kit Gillman said of Shea and Carney. “Plainfield Central took a set off them, but otherwise, they have rolled over everybody.
“Last year, they played doubles together at conference and won it. They beat Lincoln-Way East, Sandburg and H-F, and each of those were very good teams. We wouldn’t have beaten H-F and Sandburg in singles; their singles are really good.”
Shea said he is glad Gillman gave the final OK for him to team with Carney in doubles.
“We get along real well on the court,” he said. “We’ve bonded well and understand each other’s game.
“I definitely prefer doubles. My game is more suited to serve-and-volley, which I can use to my advantage in doubles. In singles, you use more groundstrokes.”
“Our doubles team can serve well, but their serve return can be better,” Gillman said. “If they pick that up, I think they can be a factor at state.
“Last year, they got a chance to watch the top eight teams at state. I told them they have to pattern their game off how those guys play, and they have done that. They even do it better than some of those teams.”
A lengthy state run for the Carney-Shea duo would be a fitting climax to Shea’s rewarding — albeit unusual — high school sports career.