Football has been a welcome outlet for Shai Werts over the last few months.
The former Newberry High standout and Georgia Southern quarterback had plenty to make his mind wander. Werts dealt with the death of one of his grandmothers earlier this year.
Last month, Werts’ other grandmother’s house burned down as a grease fire spread throughout the house. Werts lived with his grandma growing up, and the news hit him hard.
“We were in training camp when of my close friends called and said the house was on fire. I started calling. I was panicking,” Werts said. “Nobody was seriously hurt, but we lost everything. It is something you have to go through. It is part of God’s plans. I never questioned it.
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“Football has been my escape from everything. Only thing to keep my mind to going.”
Because of football and school, Werts hasn’t been able to get home to see his family since the fire. A gofundme account was established and also one for Georgia Southern boosters to contribute.
Werts has been grateful for the outpouring of support for his family during this time.
This week, Werts returns to S.C. as Georgia Southern (2-0) faces No. 2 Clemson on Saturday at noon. Many of his friends and family are expected to be there, with others hitting him up with ticket requests.
Clemson and South Carolina both recruited Werts out of Newberry High School. The Tigers wanted him to play in the secondary but, as Werts put it, “I’m not much of a tackler.”
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables had high praise of Werts’ instincts and toughness. Werts had more than 6,000 total yards and 73 touchdowns in his high school career, including 2,512 yards and 32 TDs in his senior season, and was a Shrine Bowl selection.
“He’s a terrific athlete who is playing very well in a zone read-based option offense,” Venables said this week. “That new offensive coordinator came from New Mexico. It’s a school and a program that takes great pride in being physical and running the football, and running the option with all the different bells and whistles — they are very multiple in what they do.”
Werts admits he had his struggles his first two years at GSU, including dealing with losing. The Eagles went 2-10 last year despite him breaking a pair of school records, including most total yards for a freshman quarterback.
Werts struggled with confidence but seems more comfortable this year, especially as Georgia Southern went back to a more traditional option offense. Through two games, he leads the team in rushing and has 429 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns.
Last week, Werts had 237 total yards and three scores in the 34-13 win over UMass.
“Everything happens for a reason, and I grew up,” Werts said. If I didn’t go through it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My character grew tremendously.
“Our confidence is there. We are already at two wins but we have a lot more to accomplish. We want to compete for a conference title and get to a bowl game.”