Is Shantee Orr man or myth? Sometimes, he makes you wonder.

Paul Wong

Like the time he was driving his Denby Tech Prep football team down the field during his senior season – as a quarterback. With the score tied 14-14 and the seconds quickly rolling off the fourth-quarter clock, Orr willed his team to the red zone with his uncanny ability to run the option. But as soon as he could smell the white chalk of the goalline, Orr fumbled the ball at the one-yard line, turning it over to the opposition.

That’s where the fun started.

On the ensuing play, lined up at linebacker, he sacked the opposing quarterback for a safety, winning the game for his team, 16-14.

“He played just about everything,” said Don Stuckey, Orr’s coach at Denby. “He’s a very, very versatile guy.”

Stuckey did everything he could to get Orr on the field. He was so multi-talented that Stuckey used the Detroit native as quarterback, offensive guard, tight end, linebacker, long-snapper and – gasp – punter.

“When the punter was sick, he took over the punting,” Stuckey said. “He can kick it far. I don’t know about his technique.”

Everyone has at least one Orr story.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr distinctly remembers a practice when his starting defensive end was just a freshman.

“We had a bar out there that was elevated about 11 feet, and Shantee jumped up and touched it,” Carr recollected. “Everybody was amazed because he was flatfooted, and he just jumped up.”

Orr was the unanimous choice for toughest defensive lineman to block at media day last month. Tackle Tony Pape tabbed him “the human motor” because he never stops attacking.

“That’s a great comment from Tony,” Orr said, laughing. “When I go out there, I have the type of mindframe where I’m going to make the play. It doesn’t matter if the ball’s going away from me or if it’s coming to me, I feel like I should be able to make the play on every play.”

Some may say that’s a lofty goal for a defensive end, but Nov. 3 in Spartan Stadium in the Wolverines’ controversial 26-24 defeat, it seemed like Orr accomplished it. He almost single-handedly kept Michigan in the game as star linebacker Larry Foote struggled to make his usual impact. Orr left a lasting imprint on Spartan quarterback Jeff Smoker, sacking him twice for a combined loss of 13 yards. He also led the team in unassisted tackles with seven on the afternoon.

“I love big games,” said Orr, who finished third on the team with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss last season. “If you’re a player here at this university, you should love big games. I want to have every game to be like (the Michigan State game).”

But producing in every game was a problem for Orr last season. In the two biggest games of Michigan’s season against Ohio State and Tennessee, he practically disappeared, recording just three tackles and no sacks combined in the two heart-breaking losses that ended up driving him in the offseason.

Orr made sure that his drive extended to his teammates in spring and fall practice, going to a lot of trouble to let everyone know that last season’s 8-4 record was an aberration from the rule.

He designed his own practice shirt: on the front, “8-4,” and on the back, “45-17” – the score of last year’s Citrus Bowl debacle against Tennessee.

“It was to remind us to push ourselves in the weight room,” Orr explained. “To show everybody that what we produced last year, we have to do better. Don’t settle for mediocrity. We have to push ourselves to that next level. It did push a lot of guys. It didn’t let us forget where we were last year.”

Orr “busted his butt” to become stronger and is now up to 255 pounds to go with his 6-foot-1 frame. His size is something that some thought may hinder him at Michigan, with the monstrous offensive lines he’d face.

“I’m as strong as our offensive linemen, so that’s all I can say,” said Orr, who had six sacks last season as a redshirt sophomore. “I know, hey, if it was a whole bunch of guys in a group, you’re going to pick the little guy (to block). Hey, bring it.”

The Washington offensive line brought it Saturday, stifling the playmaker for just one tackle as quarterback Cody Pickett fired away from a three-step drop all afternoon.

But his teammates know what he’s capable of.

Offensive tackle Courtney Morgan remembers well the first day the coaches asked him to play left tackle. Orr, the first defender Morgan was assigned to, was also the best from his point of view.

“I don’t think I’ll go against anyone as talented as Shantee Orr,” Morgan said. “A lot of guys who are pass rushers are going to try to go through you or go around you. Shantee can do both, so you never know what he’s going to do. He’s got long arms, and that helps him also in terms of grabbing and pulling. You have to be on your game when you go against Shantee.”

Stuckey said that the thing which separates Orr from an average defensive player is something he couldn’t teach his player: Instinct.

“He has a knack of being able to see where he is,” Stuckey said. “He has great vision. He takes advantage of people that way. I think he can see after a few plays where he can go and therefore I think it makes him very dangerous.”

Carr couldn’t agree more.

“We knew he was a great athlete, but that doesn’t always translate into a great football player. That’s what he’s been able to do.”

But while Orr has shined on the field, his Michigan career was in jeopardy because of off-the-field trouble in March of 2001. He was accused of third-degree sexual assault for allegedly raping his former girlfriend in her campus dorm room. It was a tough time for the sophomore, who wrote to her following the reported incident in an e-mail: “I was just thinking to myself and I violated something that I never thought I would do,” the police report stated.

Stuckey also found the situation confusing and unfathomable.

“I didn’t believe it,” Stuckey reminisced. “I didn’t believe it. It proved out correctly, because he’s just not that type of person. There’s no indication of him being anything but a genuine person, certainly to everyone. I didn’t believe it and staff members at Denby didn’t believe it either.”

Believing it is tough for anyone who has sat down and had a conversation with Orr. His personality is bright, as his cackle of a laugh can be heard echoing above everything else. He’s a team-first guy, who would rather talk about freshman Gabe Watson’s size (358 pounds) or redshirt freshman Pierre Woods’ abnormal eating habits than his innate ability to make plays.

“He doesn’t flaunt it,” Stuckey said. “He’s just a nice guy. He knows he’s an excellent ball player, but he doesn’t throw it around people.”

Stuckey remembers one day when the physics teacher at Denby told him that “Shantee was the best physics student he’s ever had.”

When you’ve defied physical logic like Orr has, it shouldn’t come as any surprise.

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