For a football quarterback with a reputation for being elusive, it seemed a bit odd to see Connor Shaw putting down roots, yet there he was Saturday with hundreds of grade-school-aged kids in downtown Greenville, moving from station to station at a football camp without breaking a sweat.
The former South Carolina quarterback chose Greenville as a home for his wife and daughter, now barely 6 months old, and on a brisk day under a brilliant sky he mixed easily and eagerly with children at a football camp he sponsored at The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center.
Shaw chose Greenville during his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns at the behest of the couple that serves as his marketing consultants, Dan and Rachel Everett, whom he met at Carolina. He and wife Molly are neighbors of the Everetts in a converted textile mill south of Greenville’s center within a reasonable walk from the trendy West End.
After spending most of the season on the Cleveland practice squad, Shaw is the last quarterback to start a game for the Browns, which earned him a two-year contract. As an undrafted free agent, his future isn’t clear or secure with Cleveland’s first-round pick Johnny Manziel.
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But he wanted to find a home for his young family and liked Greenville’s vibe and its central location between his parents in Georgia and the Carolina campus in Columbia. Working with kids is a bonus – simply fun after the pounding he sustained during that game shortly after Christmas against the Baltimore Ravens.
“This is much more fun, being out here with the kids,” Shaw said midway through the four-hour session. “I don’t get many opportunities to do this so I was looking forward and we’re having a blast.
“We love it here,” he said. “It’s close to my home so my family is able to come up and see my family and little Mila so it works for us.”
There have been adjustments since his final appearance with the Gamecocks – marriage, pregnancy, finding a job, playing for a team in a much colder clime and finding a permanent home– but Shaw said he’s tried to enjoy each step because those firsts can never be repeated.
None the less, his first game as a pro, a 20-10 loss which the Browns led entering the fourth quarter, was eye opening.
“It was fun. Obviously I wished I could have pulled it out, but I had the opportunity and I think it’s something I can build off of in the future,” Shaw said. “I performed decent at times, and there are always play I wished I could have back.
“And every hit is a hard hit in the NFL.”
The football version of a gym rat, Shaw always seemed to be having fun even with a reputation as an intense, gritty competitor, so he’ll cherish the successes and not be bogged down long if there are missteps. Bryan Hoyer opened the season as the starter and followed by Johnny Manziel as Cleveland won seven of its first 11 games. Things unraveled but Shaw never lost sight of his responsibility even though it was the first time in a good while that he wasn’t the guy on whom the team’s hopes were saddled.
“This is a big year for me transitioning, trying to get acclimated. I think this next go-round will be a little easier on me now that I’ve had a year under my belt and continue to improve,” Shaw said. “Once I actually got to Cleveland it was back to playing football.”
Former Carolina teammate Spencer Lanning was Cleveland’s punter, so he had a supporting shoulder and ear.
“It’s tough traveling each week and watching other people perform,” he said. “But that was the best thing for me. I was able to learn it from a different perspective. I learned from Bryan Hoyer and Johnny. I think this time around I think I’ll be better able to compete.”
The soap opera in Cleveland won’t make it any easier. Much of craziness revolves around the offense and the quarterbacks and included a general manager admitting he texted messages to the sideline during games, a star wide receiver suspended and Manziel going to rehab. Shaw believes it will all work out.
“I think they brought in the right people,” he said. “We’ll see how it all unfolds after I get back up there.
“I’ll go in with the mindset of competing. All I can do is control myself.”