Jesse Scarber moved into the Detroit King starting lineup late in his freshman year.
The starting lineup of King’s basketball team. As for football … not so much.
“Football was out of my mind back then,” Scarber said.
Scarber never set foot on the football field until his junior year, when seniors Donnie Corley and Lavert Hill talked him into playing for the first time in his life.
“They said it was going to be a big year,” Scarber said. “They said to come out and they were going to get me better.”
The two got Scarber a state championship ring when the Crusaders won the Division 2 state championship a year ago. But they rarely got him on the field.
“I played a couple of times in the fourth quarter,” Scarber said, laughing, “when we got up by 40.”
But there Scarber was on the field Friday afternoon, making two of the biggest plays of the game when the No. 2 Crusaders repeated as state champions with an 18-0 victory over No. 1 Walled Lake Western.
Scarber enjoyed being a part of last year’s football team, but he never dreamed he would have such a big role this season.
Coach Tyrone Spencer thought otherwise. Spencer watched Scarber dog other teams’ players all over the basketball court and liked the way he moved. Last spring, he informed Scarber he was going to be a starting cornerback this season.
“I was kind of surprised because there were a lot of people there working,” Scarber said. “He said he was going to work me. He said there were going to be a lot of mistakes I had, but he was going to get me there.”
He wasn’t the only one. Scarber had the unenviable task in practice of defending King’s Ambry Thomas, one of the best players in the state. And at times it got ugly.
“Going against him every practice he killed me, killed me,” Scarber said. “He killed me until I got better.”
Oh, Scarber got better all right. He had four interceptions coming into the championship game.
He was prepared to be targeted on Friday because Thomas, also a lockdown corner, knew Western had several top-flight receivers capable of burning anyone. That meant last week was one of the most difficult weeks of practice for Scarber, thanks to Thomas.
“Ambry told me they were going to come my way so he prepared me in practice every day,” Scarber said. “It was me and him going at it after practice, just working — footwork all week.”
The work began to pay off late in the first quarter, when Scarber intercepted a pass and returned it 54 yards to Western’s 8-yard line.
King led, 6-0, at halftime, but Scarber shook things up early in the third quarter when picked off another pass, this one tipped by Maurice White. This time, Scarber wasn’t stopped until he hit the end zone 56 yards later.
“He tipped it and I got underneath it and used my blockers in front of me,” he said. “I saw open field and I knew I was quick enough to get there.”
That’s how one of the most unlikely Crusaders became one of the team’s heroes in the biggest game of his life.
It all happened because Scarber wasn’t afraid to try another sport and he had the teammates willing to work with him.
“I told Ambry I would play him,” Scarber said. “I told him I’d stay in front of him and get better and he got me right.”
Together they got King another state championship.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.