The best analogy to describe the impact of brothers Tyrell and Shaq Thiessen on this year’s Hillsboro High School football season may be weather- related.
Thunder and lightning come to mind—two of the more noticeable components of a powerful football storm that rolled up a league title and a 10-1 season record this fall.
Bringing the thunder was Tyrell. Blessed with a muscular 5-foot-11-inch, 275-pound body, he rumbled across the gridiron and over more than a few defenders on the way for 773 rushing yards on 102 carries—a startling average of nearly 7.6 yards per tote.
As a linebacker on defense, it wasn’t so much how many tackles he made —76, total—but the force behind the effort. The term “brick wall” comes to mind.
Of course, when thunder rolls, lightning usually isn’t far behind. Flashing standout speed and athleticism with his lean 5-11, 174-pound frame, Shaq snagged 38 passes from quarterback Tyler Proffitt for 869 yards and 11 scores. Five of those touchdown connections were for 50 yards or longer.
Add to his productivity touchdowns on kickoff returns of 80 and 85 yards, a punt-return touchdown of 50 yards and a scoring scramble of 41 yards following an errant punt snap.
On defense? Ten interceptions for 142 return yards.
But for all their personal achievements, the brothers revel more in the total storm that was Trojan football this fall.
“God has gifted us, obviously,” Tyrell said. “But it wasn’t like me and Shaq were the best players on the team and the coach was going to design plays just for the two of us. He treated everybody the same.
“That’s why I admire our coach so much,” he added about first-year head coach Lance Sawyer. “I mean, he treats everybody the same. Nobody’s the best or anything like that. You have to fight for your position.”
Shaq added, “Every game, coach would say, ‘Come out with a swagger.’ I feel like that progressed over each game. I liked that.”
Like many Kansas storms, this one was somewhat unexpected. The Trojans were coming off a 5-5 record last season. But they rolled off 10 straight wins before losing in bi-district play to Sedgwick. The Trojans’ average margin of victory was 38-12.
“Honestly, at the beginning of the year, I don’t think any of us had an idea how far we would make it, with a new coach coming in and all that,” Tyrell said.
As for the victory margin, “We were all a little shocked,” Shaq said.
Their only disappointment was that the season ended too soon.
“I wanted to keep on playing in the playoffs against Beloit,” Tyrell said. “I wanted to see how we’d do up against them.”
The two brothers, both seniors at HHS, have differing body types and skills that reflect their different biological origins. Adopted at birth by their parents, Linden and Dorie Thiessen, the brothers are like identical twins in their commitment to family and each other.
“They are great brothers,” Linden said. “They always have been.”
Tyrell and Shaq, plus sister Taylor, who also is adopted and an HHS senior, were home schooled until the fourth grade.
“Mom told us we were all adopted and came from different parents,” Tyrell said. “I don’t remember how we reacted to it. I don’t think it was a big deal for us. It was like, ‘You’re our mom, you’re our dad—we live with you guys now.’”
Shaq and Tyrell acknowledge the close bond and mutual support they both enjoy and express.
“We don’t exclude each other from anything,” Shaq said. “If I want to go somewhere, I’m not like, ‘Oh, I just want to go.’ It’s, ‘Hey, Tyrell, do you want to go too?’ We’re just always there for each other.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t have a competitive streak. Although they couldn’t remember who finished on top, they were acutely aware that they were in competition for most touchdowns during the season.
“One game I’d be up in touchdowns, then he’d be ahead by one or two, then I’d come back and get a couple,” Tyrell said with a laugh. “I think that made us work even harder during the games. We had our own little thing going on at the same time we were working together.”
For the record, Tyrell ended with 16 touchdowns and Shaq 15.
Coming off a great season on the gridiron, both brothers identify football as their favorite sport. At least for now. Their athletic talent extends to other sports, too. Shaq came into his own as an impact player on the basketball court last season, and in spring was a state qualifier in track and field.
Tyrell, meanwhile, switched from basketball to wrestling last winter and ended up qualifying for state.
As for the future, the brothers are hearing from college coaches, but so far they are keeping their options close to the vest. Academically, both have an interest in sports management, and Tyrell has an eye on fire science as well.
As close as they are off the field, the Thiessen brothers say they’d be OK attending different schools after they graduate.
Only time will tell if their long-range forecast holds true.