PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry football standout Christian Shinault has signed with Kentucky Christian.
The three-time all-conference member and 2013 all-state selection will play linebacker for the NAIA school.
As a defensive end, Christian averaged 6.1 tackles per game, with 18 stuffs behind the line of scrimmage on the season. He totaled 11 sacks for 59 yards lost.
He also forced three fumbles, recovered three fumbles, hurried the QB 11 times and batted down one pass.
“College football has been my dream for a long time,” said the senior. With all the accolades he has earned the past two seasons, Christian was waiting for college scouts to come calling.
“On signing day when I didn’t have any e-mails or letters, I was depressed and stressed out, really grumpy,” he admitted.
Then one night the family was eating Chinese food when Christian got this message in his fortune cookie: Your hard work is about to pay off. Congratulations.
“We’re not fortune-cookie people, but that was a God wink,” said mom Heather Torrey.
A week later, Kentucky Christian reached out to the athlete seeking more information. Christian sent them a video of highlights from his junior season.
Then Wingate University came calling, and late to the recruiting battle came Culver-Stockton College of Missouri.
KCU is really young to football, having only had a team for five years, but the school already has had a couple of players reach the NFL, said dad Kris Torrey.
The school drew national attention when it hired former Detroit Lions receiver Mike Furrey to be its coach in 2010. Then last year, Gene Peterson took over the team.
Peterson emphasized defense, and despite a 3-8 record the Knights had the best defense in all of the NAIA, the coach told the family.
Kentucky Christian just felt like a good fit from the moment the family arrived for a tour, said Heather.
“There is nothing like going out there with your best friends and just beating the crap out of another team on Friday nights,” said Christian. “I’m going to miss that.”
Still, he feels like he might have made a new group of friends at KCU.
“I really like the campus up there. It’s small — they’re a private university,” said Christian. The classrooms have a 14-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.
“I was really impressed with the coaches,” Christian said. “They are class acts.”
As the family was touring the campus, football players would run over to say hello on their way to class.
“He got to meet the president of the university, who just happened to be in the weight room, in there in his socks working out,” said Heather.
Being a Christian school, players take enough religion courses to graduate with two degrees, said Kris. Christian will have a bachelor’s degree in his major and another in bible studies.
While private schools are expensive, Christian will receive a scholarship and other aid that cuts down most of the cost of attendance.
As for the football side of things, Christian said the coaches were pleased with his highlight reel.
“They were impressed with what they saw. They said that they were probably going to have me play inside linebacker or as a hybrid defensive end.”
At 6 feet and 230 pounds, Christian is a good size for defensive line at a 1A school, but that is a little small to be playing defensive end at the college level.
“It’s going to be different,” he admits, but he did play inside linebacker as a sophomore before moving to the line.
A lineman doesn’t have the same reads to make as a linebacker, he explained. Many times, the DE just gets a good jump off the snap and goes after the running back, but a MLB has to watch for pulling guards and fullbacks.
“I think I’m ready to make the adjustment,” he said. “I’ve been working on my speed, and I do drills constantly.”
He has been a member of East Surry’s track team, but said his sprint times have been hindered this year by a sore hamstring.
Ordinarily he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, which is great for a defensive end and good for a MLB.
“My start is always really good, but when I get to 16 meters, that’s when I start to fall behind,” he said.
“That’s when gravity starts to kick in,” joked Kris. At 230 pounds, Christian is far heavier than the other sprinters he competes with, he said.
“I am going to put my nose to the grindstone in the weight room, on the practice field and in the classroom until I’m the best that I can be,” Christian said.
As for his many hours with the weights, he said he squats 525 pounds, bench presses 320, power cleans 305 and hits 645 in the hex (a style of dead lift).
The senior said he has been as high as 350 in his bench press, but has come down some as he has focused on his legs and working to be quicker.
“Football,” he said, “it’s kind of a metaphor for life. … You see life played out in front of you every practice and every game.
“You’re not always going to have good plays. You’re not always going to win games. But you have to keep going or you’re not going to succeed. It’s like life, if you just quit when something bad happens to you, you’re not going to go anywhere in life.
“It’s amazing to me the friendships and brotherhood that can be formed on a football field. … I love that and I don’t want to give that up.”
As he progressed through his four years at East Surry, the coaching staff encouraged him to take on a bigger leadership role.
“I started as a freshman on varsity, and I was always the young guy.
“My freshman year I just got tossed to the wolves. I thought I was ready, but when we played Starmount … oh I got killed. That was a ‘Welcome to Friday Nights’ moment.”
Even still, that first season cemented his love of the sport.
From the first big crunch of pads in the seventh grade, Christian was hooked on the game.
However, middle school contests just don’t draw much of a crowd.
In his first game freshman year, Christian went into the game in the second quarter and performed so well that the coaches left him on the field for the rest of the night.
The Cardinals won, and as the players walked off the field victorious the packed home bleachers were showering them with cheers.
It was such an emotional moment that Christian had tears in his eyes, said Heather.
Head coach David Diamont is quick to point out that Christian worked hard to get where he is.
When East Surry held a youth football camp last summer, Diamont had Christian demonstrate proper tackling techniques and proper weightlifting form.
“I’ve been a football fan pretty much my whole life,” said Kris. “I’ve realized that good form can avoid injuries. If you’re taught the right way and you do the techniques, you can get away from being hurt.”
The coach encouraged the boys to follow Christian’s example of a solid work ethic.
“I never took a play off in practice; I can honestly say that. The results stand for themselves.”
“Myself and the other captains — being Madison Chilton, Casey Marion, John Dickenson, Josh Fregia — we told ourselves from day one in the spring that we were going to focus on trying to go all the way. We were going to focus on a state championship.
“It was a culture change. We went from practice, people saying, “Aww, let’s go easy today.’” If a person was busting his butt in practice, some of the guys would snicker and call him a ‘try-hard.’ We eliminated that word. That word was not used on our field anymore. … If you were messing around in the weight room we would tell you, ‘Get on or get out.’ We embraced the grind of it.”
At the same time the team was working toward a successful season, the death of a classmate shook the entire East Surry campus. JV soccer player Jacob Pettitte died from injuries sustained in a car accident.
“When Jacob passed away, we all realized that you’re not guaranteed another day. You have to do everything right that day because you’re not guaranteed anything.” That is how the team started out 9-1 and finished 11-3.
The Cards lost to rival Mount Airy to end the regular season, but got a second chance in the 1A state playoffs.
Christian called beating the Bears in the playoffs a tie for his favorite football moment, right up there with walking off the field in his first freshman game.
When these two teams meet, he said, “There is so much mutual respect and so much mutual disrespect.”
In the first matchup, he had a hyperextended elbow and wasn’t at full strength.
After the game, Christian’s arm was hurting him, but then something else started up that really concerned his parents.
“When we came home from the game, his pulse rate was 187, and it didn’t come back down,” said Heather. “We were terrified. We didn’t know what we were looking at.”
It was about midnight when the family went to Northern Hospital to get him checked out. Northern Surry then passed him along to Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
The first doctor that spoke to the family was not a cardiologist, said Christian.
“He was telling me that I had suffered a mild heart attack, I was going to have to have heart catheterization later that day and I would probably never play again. He walked out, and we’re all crying.”
Kris said he was thinking about basketball players like Hank Gathers collapsing on the court and dying.
Then several hours later around 7 a.m., the cardiologist came in.
“He said, ‘Look, we did the EKG. This is what you have. You’re going to be fine,’” said Christian.
“He was diagnosed with superventricular tachycardia,” said Heather. The specialist took the time to explain that Christian’s condition isn’t severe and can be easily controlled with medication. “He told him that he could be back on the field the next week.”
As a mom, Heather said she has always worried about his health.
“I’ve thought about that since the first time he wrestled when I’m sitting in the stands wondering why I gave permission for my child to be bent in all these pretzel shapes,” she said.
Kris said he worries about Christian every time he gets in car because that’s just as likely as a serious injury on the football field.
“He could walk out the front door tomorrow, fall down and bust his head open.”
So despite their fears, Kris and Heather have supported Christian’s sports.
“When he’s out there, and he’s in his zone doing what he loves, as a mom you just want your kid to have that. He will never forget his days on the field.”
Injuries are a part of football. Christian said during his sophomore year, he played the whole season with hip discomfort that was later diagnosed as two stress fractures of the pelvis. He cracked a rib his junior year and has suffered several rolled ankles.
All of those injuries did spark Christian’s curiosity of human anatomy, and he plans to study physical therapy.
In the meantime, he will enjoy four more years of being part of a football brotherhood.