In 2013, Alabama took the commitment of a promising stud defensive tackle out of Georgia — a position and a state where it is hard to pry loose talent. At the time, Elisha Shaw was the No. 3 DT prospect in the nation and the No. 1 recruit in all of the Peachtree State. It was a big get for the program; it was a perfect fit for Shaw.
“After I went down, my neck was really stiff so they put me in a neck brace,” Shaw said. “I thought it was the sort of thing where they’d give me some pain relievers and it would be something that healed in a week, and that’d I’d come back and be ready to go.”
During a checkup shortly after the injury, doctors discovered that Shaw had injured plates in his neck. He confirmed the specifics of his injury that were reported in February by Alabama student-run newspaper The Crimson White. He strained ligaments in his C1 vertebrae, bulging discs in C3 and C4 and an improper curve in his neck, according to The Crimson White. His doctors advised against him continuing his football career.
”The doctor came into the room and said, ‘I’m sorry, son, but you will not be able to play football anymore,’” Shaw said. “That’s when it happened. That’s when everything changed.”
Everything changed. Schools abandoned Shaw’s recruitment even as he sat out a year to focus on recovery, believing, as he said “that I have one more play left in me.”
That play never came. Shaw would never play football again.
But one school stood by Shaw. Even if he could not be a football player, he could still have a future. That school was the University of Alabama. As the rest of us moved on, and as Alabama continued crafting its dynasty, life was just beginning for Shaw.
When Lamar asked Elisha where he wanted to go to school after he learned of the severity of his injury, though, there was a clear-cut choice. He wanted to go to Alabama.
So Lamar called then-Alabama defensive line coach Chris Rumph, who was the Crimson Tide’s main recruiter in the area, to see what Alabama could do.
Rumph, along with Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, sat down with Saban to discuss Shaw’s status and made the decision to stand by their offer.
Elisha Shaw did not technically “sign” with Alabama, but he did sign the paperwork that will grant him a medical hardship scholarship that will pay for his tuition. As promised by Saban and the coaching staff, Shaw will still be around the program, where he will help assist in his new passion of coaching.
As of now, Elisha Shaw said he will be helping Smart with recruiting — a position Lamar said he thinks Shaw will be more than qualified for.
It is almost certain that Shaw would not have been around to receive this Senior Salute. He would have likely been on to the NFL last Spring: You can’t coach 6’4” 295 with exceptional fast twitch muscles and the ability to command double teams. But, as the NCAA is quick to remind us, most student-athletes go pro in something other than sports. Shaw, who was scheduled to graduate this Spring, is now one such young man.
Today I picked up a young man (I’m an Uber driver now to keep busy) whose name was Elisha Shaw. What a class act this kid was to talk to along with with his maturity. If I was an employer, this kid would on the top of my list to hire. In high school, he was the number 1 recruit coming out of Georgia, and the number 2 DT in the nation. Before his senior year in HS, he suffered a career ending neck injury, but Nick Saban honored his scholarship anyway. Elisha couldn’t have been any more thankful to Coach Saban for that, plus Saban’s guidance and encouragement upon arriving.
These are the stories we don’t hear enough of: the myriad ways in which collegiate athletics and the mentoring of coaching staffs changes lives. College sports are not just a cynical cash grab; not every person on scholarship is roster fodder in a developmental league. There dozens of these stories every year, at at every school, where the institution gives young adults the skills to be a positive force in their community, to have a chance at a better life.
Our very best to Elisha and to all of the Elisha Shaws out there. Have a great life. And if you are in the position to pay-it-forward one day, don’t forget the lessons learned at Alabama when you were at your ebb. Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes.