Legacy of toughness: Connor Shaw always answers the bell

jkendall@thestate.comNovember 9, 2013 

DAVE KAUP — Special to The State

As of Oct. 25, Lee Shaw or his wife Dawn had seen all but one game of their son’s college career in person and had no plans of missing their second on Oct. 26 when South Carolina played Missouri.

Lee Shaw, the coach at Rabun County High in north Georgia, had just finished a 37-7 home win against Clarke Central, and he and Dawn were ready to board a plane the next day when he called South Carolina’s quarterback, his son Connor.

The news he got late that Friday night wasn’t good. In addition to a week-old sprained knee that looked at first like it could end his collegiate career, Connor Shaw was dealing with a virus that had him vomiting Friday night.

“He said he didn’t think there was any way he’d be able to play,” Lee Shaw said. “I said, ‘We are going to stay then, and we’ll save the plane tickets for a bowl game.’ ”

So Lee and Dawn settled in at home in front of the television to watch Dylan Thompson lead South Carolina against the Tigers. As the Missouri lead increased and the Gamecocks’ chances waned, television cameras kept showing Connor Shaw on the bench.

“When I saw him shaking his arms on the sideline, I looked at my wife and said, ‘He’s about to go in,’ ” Lee Shaw said.

For anyone who has watched Connor Shaw’s career, it was little surprise to see him enter the game regardless of his physical condition. For Lee Shaw, who has seen Shaw’s whole career and coached him in high school, it was no surprise at all.

“He’s been answering the bell since he was in rec ball,” Lee Shaw said.

When Connor Shaw’s Gamecock career is over, he probably will be the school’s winningest quarterback, and he’ll be one of its all-time leaders in passing yards and touchdowns, but “answering the bell” will be his most enduring legacy. Unlike any quarterback in the school’s history, Shaw has played through injuries and pain the past two seasons when even he didn’t think he could.

“That’s Superman right there,” freshman linebacker T.J. Holloman said. “I don’t think anything can hold him back at this point.”

In 2012, Shaw fractured his shoulder blade in the first game of the season and missed one start. He played the final four games of that season on a foot that had a stress fracture and two damaged ligaments. It was so painful he required pain-killing injections and pain pills every Saturday and surgery in January.

This season has been no less trying. On Sept. 28, he suffered a sprained right shoulder that the team’s trainers expected to keep him out two to three weeks, but he started the next game, completing 17 of 20 passes for 262 yards against Kentucky. On Oct. 19 against Tennessee, he crumpled under the weight of two Volunteer defensive linemen and left the stadium on crutches and with a brace covering his left leg. With everyone wondering how many weeks he might miss, he entered the next week’s game against Missouri in the third quarter and led a 17-point comeback that saved South Carolina’s season.

“You will think he’s broken down, but he’s still at practice and he’s still ready to play when the coaches need him to play,” linebacker Kaiwan Lewis said. “I feel like he has a defensive player’s mindset. He’s in attack mode.”

Shaw has shown such toughness this season that Charles Davis is worried it is going to become all the 6-foot-1, 209-pound senior is known for. Davis, a former defensive back at Tennessee and college football broadcaster, is a draft analyst for the NFL Network.

“This is a guy that twice now I have heard could be gone for extended periods of time, and then I see him on the field the very next week,” Davis said. “He’s hurt, sick, everything at Missouri. They need him, and he goes out and brings them home.”

It’s a disservice to Shaw if that’s where the conversation stops, Davis said. Shaw, who is 10th in the nation in passing efficiency, has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,655 yards, 18 touchdowns and one interception. He’s also 29th in the SEC in rushing with 41.7 yards per game.

“The toughness label can be damning you with faint praise in terms of your overall ability,” Davis said. “He gets identified as tough guy and rightly so, but when is the last time you watched one of the highlight shows that talked about his ability or the plays he is making? No one talks about that fourth-down throw at Missouri. They talk about his toughness. That’s a pretty good throw.”

Tommy Suggs, a former South Carolina quarterback and 40-year veteran of the team’s radio booth, also lauds Shaw’s play but knows his fortitude is hard to ignore.

“He’s a tough kid, and that can not be overstated,” Suggs said. “He plays through pain, not injury but pain, and I think that’s a wonderful thing because we all have to go to work in the morning when we don’t feel like it sometimes.”

A rough-and-tumble quarterback permeates a locker room. It’s tough to watch a player at the game’s marquee position practice and play through pain and not to do it yourself, junior cornerback Victor Hampton

“His toughness from that position is a monster bonus to any team,” Davis said. “He finds a way to get out there and play no matter what, and that means every other ache and pain and bruise on the team, right or wrong, seems trivial. Your quarterback is finding a way to get out there. I don’t think you can underestimate what that does for a team.”

Connor’s brother Jaybo, who played quarterback at Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, is cut from the same Kevlar cloth as Connor, Lee Shaw said. Both of the Shaw boys “wanted to be known as the toughest quarterbacks in their program’s history,” Lee Shaw said.

“That is something that they felt like they could control,” their father said. “They had this unbelievable loyalty to the football family, and they always talked about the legacy they would leave with their last name and they wanted it to be a legacy of toughness.”

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