BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION – When Eric Shufford and Mike Lilly left their home state, they knew there was a pretty good chance mom and dad and other family members would never to get see them play.
It was part of the sacrifice of leaving a junior college for the Division I waters at the University of South Dakota.
“I’ve grown up and matured enough to know that my family won’t be able to come to every game, even if I play professionally,” said Shufford, a native of Rialto, California who came to Vermillion a year ago after playing at San Bernardino Valley College.
“The games they do get to come to, I just have to enjoy.”
Both Shufford – a wide receiver – and Lilly – a cornerback – will finally get that opportunity to play a D-I football game in front of family, as the Coyotes play at UC Davis tonight (Saturday) at 8 p.m. Central.
It is not, however, as if Shufford and Lilly are flying back to their home towns and playing just down the road (Davis is about 5-6 hours away for each of them), but when it means their families can easily make the drive, they’ll take it.
“It’ll be fun to play in your home state,” said Lilly, a native of Santa Ana who previously played at Santa Ana Community College.
“It’s not really that close for me, but it’s close enough.”
Shufford’s mother, father and grandfather were able to make the trip to Montana when the Coyotes played out there last season, but he’ll have a larger contingent of family at tonight’s game. The same is true for Lilly, who estimated he will have 10 family members in the stands.
Two of their teammates will also be returning to their home state: Mason Ruiz (Tulare) and Kyle Staples (Fresno).
“It makes a big difference, because they haven’t gotten to see me play for this school,” Lilly said. “It’ll be a great feeling, just knowing you have people supporting you.”
On the other hand, as Shufford said, just because you have family in the stands doesn’t suddenly mean you’ll try harder – the Coyotes want to win, regardless of who’s watching.
“My mom is my biggest supporter, but she’s my biggest critic,” Shufford said. “She’ll scream at me from the stands. It gets bad.
“It’s great hearing her voice up there, but her not being there doesn’t affect the way I play.”