By Joe Scalzo
If you charted Will Shaw’s path to the NFL on a line graph, it would look less like a rising straight line than a butterfly on Red Bull.
He was a standout wide receiver/defensive back at his Baltimore high school, spent one year as a DB at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, then spent his sophomore year at Youngstown State as a safety, followed by a switch to linebacker, followed by a switch to defensive end, followed by a switch to tight end, followed by another brief shift to defensive end, followed by a permanent switch to tight end.
Got all that?
While Shaw’s best position was often in question, his size (6-3, 245) and talent (4.6 40-yard dash) never were. He’s got an NFL body, even if he knows it’ll take him time to develop into an NFL tight end.
“I have a lot of room to learn,” said Shaw, “and I’m always willing to learn.”
Shaw, a second team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection, caught 35 passes for 429 yards and five TDs last fall — his first full season at tight end. He’s spent this week in Tucson, Ariz., preparing for today’s Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game.
It’s the second year for the game, which produced six NFL draft picks last April, including the 98th overall pick, Gino Gradkowski.
“It’s really good exposure,” said Shaw, who estimates that between 80-100 NFL scouts attended practice this week. “So far it’s been a really good experience. We have guys from schools like Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas — all the good schools — and there’s been really good competition in practice.”
While Shaw is hoping to play in at least one other postseason all-star game, the chances are slim considering he will start classes on Monday at YSU. He is eight classes away from graduation and plans to take five this spring.
“It just comes down to my belief that, regardless of whether I make it to the NFL and play 10 years or don’t play at all, I need that degree,” said Shaw, a business administration major. “That’s something I took pride in when I came to Youngstown, knowing I would be the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year school.”
Shaw also came to Youngstown in hopes of making it to the NFL — there are two former Penguins currently in the league, Bills WR Donald Jones and Raiders DB Brandian Ross — although he admits the path hasn’t always been smooth.
“I think a lot of college players have that aspiration [to get the NFL] and as your career goes on and you get closer and closer, it gets more realistic,” he said. “Going from safety to tight end, it was a little hazy as far as my goals for a while, but the more I played tight end, the more confident I got.
“I’m trying to turn that dream into reality now.”
He’s not the only one. Penguin guard Lamar Mady, who could end up playing in the Texas vs. the Nation Game, and RB Jamaine Cook are eyeing the same thing.
“I think it’s a real possibility because Youngstown has gotten more and more talent over the past couple years,” Shaw said. “The group coming out this year is just a bunch of blue-collar hard workers and you can’t rule those kind of guys out.”