National Signing Day is a special occasion for high school football seniors, but it was more special for Tucker High School defensive tackle Elisha Shaw.
As Shaw walked up on the stage in his school auditorium, everyone could see him holding a hat with the University of Georgia symbol on it. But as he was about to put on the hat, he pulled an Alabama hat from underneath the Georgia hat and placed the Alabama hat on his head.
Shaw committed to Alabama and the football program offered to put him on medical scholarship as a student coach or trainer so he can still get a college education. He will be able to train with the team but will not play. Shaw said he will work toward becoming a coach. He got a lot of practice at coaching this past season as he coached his Tucker teammates during their run to the state championship game
It was a dream come true for Shaw to be able to experience that moment, but his dream of playing football for Alabama may never come to fruition.
During his junior year, Shaw burst onto the scene as one of the top defensive players in the state. He finished his junior season with 22 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and two sacks. With his size, speed and skill set, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound junior earned a 4-star grade and was ranked the No. 2 defensive tackle in the 2014 class, according to 247Sports.com.
When college football recruiters began taking notice of him, Shaw found his dreams of becoming a college football star were starting to become true. However, everything changed last summer before the start of his senior season. During the second day of summer practice, Shaw was making a tackle during a passing drill when he injured his neck.
“When it happened I went numb for a little bit, but I hopped right back up,” he said.
Shaw saw a doctor the following day, but the doctor could not tell how significant the injury was and put a brace on his neck.
“They really couldn’t tell anything,” Shaw said. “My neck was in pain but he thought I had a concussion. I didn’t know the seriousness of it.”
Despite not knowing how serious the injury was, Shaw still had every intention to get back on the football field. However, on his third visit to the doctor he received the devastating news that he would never be able to play football again.
“I was stunned,” he said. “It felt like a dream because I never thought something like this would happen to me.”
Tucker head coach Bryan Lamar said it was tough to see Shaw deal with this situation.
“It’s hard when you have to come to grips with not being able to play with all the hard work you’ve put in from your freshman year to your senior year,” Lamar said. “Elisha has been playing since he was a kid and to grow into a big time recruit and have that taken from him, that’s tough.”
Shaw said his injury is similar to the neck injury that took the life of Creekside High School football player Deantre Turman. Turman died after injuring his neck during a scrimmage game in August. Shaw said that he feels blessed that his injury did not have the same results.
“The only thing that made me feel better was that I was still alive and I could move and I still had all my strengths,” Shaw said.
Although he could not play, he was still able to train with his teammates. At his last appointment, the doctor told Shaw that he is looking a lot better.
Before the injury occurred, Shaw had college recruiters calling him every day expressing their interest in him to play football at their school. Shaw had developed close relationships with the coaches at Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, and those schools became his top three choices.
When Shaw informed the recruiters at Alabama, Auburn and Georgia about his diagnoses, they expressed nothing but encouragement and positive expectations.
“They were telling me to stay positive and just gave me hope,” Shaw said. “But I’ve always had hope. I never lost hope and I still haven’t lost hope.”
While he was getting words of encouragement from those three schools, recruiters from other schools slowly began backing away from Shaw. Lamar commended Alabama, Auburn and Georgia for sticking by Shaw.
“[They are] just first class organizations,” Lamar said. “If you recruit a kid and put effort and energy into that kid as a person, it’s more than just football. He could have walked on campus and get injured his first day.”
Shaw said he felt fortunate and hopeful as he celebrated National Signing Day alongside his teammates, but added that he would have felt differently if he knew he was going to college to continue his football career.
“But it’s cool. It’s about getting an education and being around successful people,” he said. “I’m going to work on being a coach, getting a great education and be around positive people.”
His current coach believes he could be a successful coach if he stays focused and gives it his all.
“I’m just proud of him and how he has handled this,” Lamar said. “It’s just a start. He still has a lot of work to do in order to get there.”
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