That’s all that stands between Connor Shaw and one of the most surprising milestones in college football.
He’s already the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history, has earned the undying admiration of the Gamecock faithful and piled up 7,398 yards of offense.
If he can make it through 168 more hours and finish the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., Shaw will add another impressive line to his resume by becoming the first quarterback signed to a scholarship by Steve Spurrier at South Carolina to finish his eligibility at the school. It makes him the first of nine to survive four years of football at Spurrier’s South Carolina, and he’s done more than survive — he’s thrived.
Shaw’s senior season, which has included 21 touchdowns and one interception, has earned him The State’s Amateur Athlete of the Year award for 2013, but his career deserves an award, for persistence if nothing else. As Shaw has added win after win this season, Spurrier graduated from calling him “maybe the best” quarterback in school history to making it official after a Nov. 30 win against Clemson that pushed Shaw’s collegiate record to 26-5, including 17-0 in Williams-Brice Stadium.
“If Coach Spurrier says he’s the best quarterback in South Carolina history, he’s the best quarterback in South Carolina history,” running back Mike Davis said.
Shaw has completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards this season while rushing for 511 yards, the second-highest total on the team, and four touchdowns.
“He’s played really well,” Spurrier said.
Shaw came to Columbia looking nothing like the quarterbacks who gained so much collegiate glory under Spurrier at Florida. A three-star prospect who was recruited by many colleges as a wide receiver, Shaw moved the ball as effectively with his legs as his arm at Flowery Branch High north of Atlanta, and he has continued that style under Spurrier. He has rushed for 1,636 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career, and he shredded the Tigers a month ago with the same first down scrambles that have demoralized and defeated so many opponents.
“Any quarterback who can steal a first down off a scramble is a dangerous weapon,” South Carolina offensive line coach and run game coordinator Shawn Elliott said. “Defensive ends that chase him around out there, it’s like chasing something you can’t catch. You just get so frustrated with it after a while it’s almost like give up. He’s big for us. He made some plays out there for us.”
Spurrier has called Shaw a leader on par with Marcus Lattimore, which is probably the highest compliment Spurrier can pay given his admiration for Lattimore. While Lattimore’s greatest gift was charisma, Shaw’s is grit. His injury history is almost as detailed as his playing history. Twice this season, after a shoulder injury against UCF and a knee sprain against Tennessee, Shaw has been helped off the field looking like he might not return for a while, if ever. Each time, he was back in time for South Carolina’s next game.
“He’s brought a lot of toughness and a lot of heart and a lot of effort (to the Gamecocks),” Elliott said. “When you see a guy like that that goes out there and plays as well as he does and really puts forth everything that he’s got day in and day out with so many injuries that he had to endure throughout his career, it’s hard not to go out there and give everything you’ve got for him. He is going to have his good days and his bad days, just like us all, but you know it’s not because of lack of effort. He’s a warrior.”
He might be soon. Shaw will begin training in Atlanta after the Capital One Bowl in hopes of making an NFL roster.
“I am going to ride this train as long as I can,” he said of football.
When his playing career is over, he is leaning toward a career in the military, likely the Air Force. Shaw made headlines this summer when he parachuted unbeknownst to his coaches.
“Once I hang it up for good, I will have to make that decision (about the military),” he said. “I am looking at it really hard right now.”
In the past year, Shaw has worked with Hidden Wounds, a group that supports soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, visited with the families of fallen soldiers and attended deployment ceremonies for local military units.
“I have a spot in my heart for all of that,” Shaw said. “Whatever happens, I’ll find a way to stay involved with the military, especially guys from South Carolina and the National Guard.”
There is at least one more game before any of those decisions must be made, though. The Gamecocks will arrive in Orlando, Fla., and hold their first practice at the bowl site on Thursday. For Shaw, the Gamecocks’ month-long bowl preparation was a bit of torture.
“We are buying time a little bit, but we’re watching film on Wisconsin constantly,” he said. “When we get to the bowl site, we’ll crank it up a little bit.”
Shaw was asked last week what kind of punctuation he would like to put on his South Carolina career in the bowl game.
“Any way to win,” he replied. “I don’t care how it happens. It’s going to be a little emotional suiting up for the last time in a Carolina uniform, so just find a way to win.”
Getting to this finish line of his race is a victory in itself.