One of the feel-good stories from this past year’s signing day was finalized on Monday.
Alabama officially got clearance from the NCAA to award a non-football scholarship to Elisha Shaw, the former Tucker High School standout who suffered a career-ending neck injury at the beginning of his senior season.
Before the injury, Shaw was rated as one of the state’s top 10 overall college football prospects for 2014. He had around 20 scholarship offers, and listed Alabama, UGA and Ole Miss as his leaders.
Shaw won’t count as a regular football scholarship, or against Alabama’s 85-man roster limit.
“We’ve always done this kind of stuff for our players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told the AJC on Monday. “We’ve had players that had Hodgkin’s disease and couldn’t play. We had a guy last year who … couldn’t pass his physical and is still going to school here. So whenever it’s allowed by NCAA rules, we always try to do the best we can for the player.
“Elisha Shaw was committed to us for a long time. We thought he was a good player. Certainly, it wasn’t his fault that he got hurt. We’re all about trying to create opportunities for guys, and give them opportunities. Elisha was a guy, since he was committed to us, we wanted to see if there was anything we could do to give him the opportunity to get education here even though he was medically disqualified to play.
“We were really just trying to take care of our own.”
Before last February’s signing day, Shaw never publicly committed to Alabama nor was he ever listed as a Crimson Tide commit on any recruiting websites. However, Saban said Monday that Shaw had privately given him a pre-injury pledge to sign with Alabama — and that was good enough to honor the scholarship offer.
“He had committed to me,” Saban said. “But maybe that wouldn’t have stuck? I don’t know. We had a good relationship with him. We liked him as a player. We liked him as a person. We were committed to him after he told me he wanted to come to Alabama. As soon as all of this occurred, we told him that we were going to do everything we could to see if we could still give him the opportunity to get him an education here at the University of Alabama.”
Last August, Shaw injured his neck while making a tackle in practice and never played again. Tucker coach Bryan Lamar pitched the idea of a non-football scholarship for Shaw to Alabama’s assistants because that’s where Shaw really wanted to go to school. The injury was another tough break for Shaw, who had missed his sophomore year of football due to academics. He also underwent knee surgery as a junior.
Alabama’s special deal was first revealed by Shaw and his coaches as a surprise on signing day and quickly became a national story. However, it took nearly six months to get through all of the paperwork and red tape to gain official clearance on Monday.
Saban, who couldn’t talk about Shaw until Monday due to NCAA rules, thanked college football’s governing body for allowing it to happen.
“Our compliance people handled it with NCAA, and I’m just really pleased and happy that the NCAA is making more and more decisions in favor of the student-athlete — I think that’s really a good thing,” Saban said. “I think these guys (players) really work hard. The value of getting an education is certainly important, but the value of what they do for the institutions is pretty special, too. I’m glad more and more things are being done on behalf of the student-athlete and the player.
“I think the coaches in our league have all been advocates of doing as much as we can for the players. Of course, you always have to worry about making sure they’re amateurs. We can’t lose the spirit of college football, but I think in this case, Elisha Shaw was a good thing that the NCAA did. This is going to change this young man’s life in a positive way. I’m sure he will be an asset to our organization here, even though he can’t play football.”
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Shaw will officially start classes next month, along with members of Alabama’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class. Shaw has the option of being part of the football program in a role that has yet to be determined, providing he maintains good grades.
“The first and foremost thing we want Elisha to do here is to be a good student,” Saban said. “We try to help our players continue to develop as people and to make good choices and decision to be successful in the future. Of course, a big part of that is making sure they get an education. That’s the No. 1 thing.
“If Elisha wants to be involved in the football program in some way, whether it’s be a student assistant of some sort, we would certainly welcome him to do that. That might lead to him developing a career as a coach or a trainer, or something like that. If that what he’s wants to do, we’d love for him to do it.”
The state of Georgia is traditionally one of Alabama’s primary recruiting areas, although only two out of 26 signees from this past year were from Georgia. For 2015, Alabama has 19 commitments, including four from Georgia. One of those is Tucker defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter, who is close friends with Shaw. Ledbetter committed while visiting Alabama with Shaw last January.
Tucker is one of the state’s top annual producers of college football talent, and had five seniors sign this past year with D1 schools, including the UGA-bound duo of Dominick Sanders and Detric Dukes.
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