• Photo Showcase: Mike Shoff, 2012 boys high school athlete of the year
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Mike Shoff's final weekend of his high school career gave him a pinnacle moment — an all-class gold medal in the shot put.
It likewise elevated the Cambridge senior to the 2012 Nebraska boys high school athlete of the year award, which goes for the first time in three generations to an athlete from a Class D school.
“Winning the all-class gold was the highlight,” Shoff said. “I've won a lot of gold medals in wrestling and the throws, but you can only say that you're the best in the state” with an all-class gold.
In a remarkable year for The World-Herald's award, three of the six finalists were from Class D schools. The others were Drew Ott of Giltner and Jed Fenske of Sargent.
Shoff knows them. He went head-to-head in the shot put with Ott, who took second in Class D, and they were on the winning team at last weekend's Nebraska Shrine Bowl. Shoff has been at wrestling tournaments with Fenske, and they were teammates Saturday at the state all-star dual in Grand Island.
“They're both great athletes and good guys,” Shoff said.
The only other athlete of the year from Class D was Duane Buchtel of Clay Center in 1956. The description that The World-Herald's Gregg McBride wrote about Buchtel applies also to Shoff:
Husky — Shoff is 6-foot-6 and around 280 pounds.
Fast and agile — just ask Shoff's overmatched wrestling opponents.
Powerful — Shoff was a two-time class champion in the shot put and discus.
Durable — A torn ACL before his junior year of football caused him to miss the regular season, but he returned for the second round of the playoffs.
Smart — He carried a 3.9 GPA and won academic awards.
A leader — His coaches will vouch for that trait.
“He's one of the most likable kids I've been around,” Cambridge wrestling coach Les Painter said. “For the amount of talent he had, he respected you. Anything you said to him, he tried and did his best. With a kid that big and that good, sometimes that doesn't happen.”
Shoff will play football at South Dakota State after making the All-Nebraska team as a senior. In wrestling, he was a three-time champion at 285 pounds whose only career loss came on a stalling point in the state finals as a sophomore. In track, he had the only 60-foot marks this season in the shot put.
“While obviously Mike is a great football player and that's his passion,” Cambridge football coach Josh Graves said, “that really was his third-best sport this year.”
Shoff, son of Mike and Chris Shoff, spent his grade-school years in Cambridge. He moved to Ogallala and then Sutton as his father took different jobs in education. The Shoffs returned to Cambridge after Mike's sophomore year when the elder Shoff was hired as high school principal.
For Mike, the moves helped — not hindered — his athletic progress.
“I experienced a lot of coaching styles and methods, and that opened my eyes,” he said. “Sometimes hearing things over and over from the same people isn't such a good thing.”
Shoff is projected to play offensive line in college. He played fullback on offense at Sutton in his early years of high school. Throw in the knee injury, which happened in a pickup basketball game, and Shoff didn't make his way to the offensive line until his senior year.
“I don't think even Mike knows how good he could be,” Graves said. “He was going against 165-pound kids at practice. He's not the Mike Shoff we'll see in three years. As an offensive lineman, he's still a baby.”
Similar situations faced Shoff in wrestling. his 153-1 career record included a record streak of 47 consecutive pins. Among his 30 pins as a senior, 25 took a minute or less.
“Every match he wrestled, you always got 100 percent,” Painter said. “Truthfully, until the state tournament you didn't see his aggressive side as much. At state he was competitively a different kid, but he knew it was a whole different level. Oh, when he flipped that switch, you didn't want to be on the other side. Just overpowering.”
Track coach Laurie Farr said Shoff was a little disappointed that he didn't top his season best of 61-11¾ at state. His winning mark was 60-11½. But she said he was satisfied that he had helped the team. Cambridge's Class D crown was the first for the school in any sport since 2005.
She said his success in the discus depended on the day. “But it came together at state, and that's what the team needed.”
Shoff, who plans to take a redshirt year at SDSU in hopes of vying for a starting role in 2013, said “it's been an awesome run.”
“Not a lot of people can move halfway through their high school career, have as much fun and be as successful as what happened to me,” he said. “What I'll miss most are the people. I'm still friends with kids I met freshman year at wrestling meets.
“I'm sad to end it, but I'm excited as well. I'm excited to go to college and show them what I've got.”
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