There’s no way to put a value on what Connor Shaw has meant to South Carolina’s football team during what has been the most successful run in school history.
He’s 22-4 as the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback and might as well be made out of titanium.
“No matter how beaten up, battered or bruised he is, he’s going to lay it on the line for you, and there’s just a huge amount of confidence that’s instilled in everybody when you have a guy like that leading your team,” said Shawn Elliott, South Carolina’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
In just about every sense, Shaw is the essence of what college football should be.
The only thing that surpasses his toughness is his undying sense of team, although the two go hand-in-hand in his case.
About the only way you’re going to get Shaw out of a game is with a tire-iron, and not even that is a sure thing.
“Growing up, my dad always said, ‘To be a quarterback, you have to be the toughest guy on the field,’ ” said Shaw, who along with his older brother, Jaybo, was coached by his father, Lee, in high school in Flowery Branch, Ga.
“I know I’m more susceptible to injuries with the way I play. I embrace it, though, and am not going to change the way I play. I think that’s why I’ve had a lot of the success I’ve had because I can run the ball. But that’s a part of my game, and I’ll live with [the injuries].”
More precisely, he’ll play through them and play stunningly well.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw is throwing the football as well as he ever has, and the stats would seem to back up the Head Ball Coach. Shaw is third in the SEC in passing efficiency and has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions. In the 52-7 rout of Arkansas last week, Shaw passed for three touchdowns and ran for one more.
Never mind that he had his right (throwing) shoulder pop out of place and then put back into place at halftime three weeks ago against UCF. At the time, doctors told him he’d be out for two to three weeks.
Shaw knew better. He suffered a similar injury in high school and barely even blinked.
“It wasn’t the next game that he played. It was the next series,” said Lee Shaw, who’s now coaching at Rabun County High in Northeast Georgia where he grew up and played high school football. "That’s just Connor. He has an unbelievable sense of loyalty to the team and feels like he’s letting his team down if he’s not out there.
“It’s been that way since he started picking up a football.”
Shaw gets that fiery resolve honestly. He grew up in a sports-minded family where competition was a way of life.
His father, Lee, played football at Western Carolina. His mother, Dawn, played basketball at North Georgia College. His brother, Jaybo, played quarterback at Georgia Tech and then later Georgia Southern, and his sister, Anna Kate, is on a tennis scholarship at Georgia Southwestern.
“We competed in everything we did, and that tough mentality definitely comes from my parents,” Shaw said.
And when he says everything, he means everything.
“From rolling up windows the fastest to seeing who could buckle their seatbelts the fastest,” Lee joked.
The family beach trips became miniature Superstars competitions.
“We’d have the nightly Putt-Putt tournaments and then the tennis tournaments where we’d divide up and play, and if we could have found a basketball goal somewhere, then it really would have been on,” Lee said.
“It was competition 24-7. I didn’t let them win at anything until they earned it, and when they earned it, they would let me know real fast that they beat me.”
Even with the shoulder injury he suffered in the UCF game earlier this season, Shaw is significantly healthier than he was at any time a year ago when he fractured his scapula in his throwing shoulder against Vanderbilt in the opener and suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot in late October against Tennessee.
“I don’t see how he finished the season a year ago, to be honest with you,” said Lee, who typically drives all night to attend Shaw’s games on Saturdays after coaching his team on Friday nights.
“He’d run on the side of his foot for so long that he had to learn to walk heel-toe again. But, again, he’s just so driven to not let his team down.”
He’s equally determined to have his teammates’ backs. That was never more apparent than the aftermath of the Jadeveon Clowney dust-up two weeks ago when the Gamecocks’ star defensive end didn’t play against Kentucky. After the game, Shaw offered a passionate defense of Clowney and made it clear that there was no division in the Gamecocks’ locker room.
“It really did piss me off,” Shaw said. “Everybody around us was making it such a big deal even though it didn’t faze us in the locker room. People were really crucifying Clowney after one game, and people get hurt all the time. I had to step up and say something and make sure people realize that Clowney has helped us win a lot of big-time games and he will in the future as well.”
Those kind of leadership skills should serve Shaw well when he’s done with football.
He’s interesting in getting into special forces with the military and has a couple of buddies who are Army Rangers. He’s already gone sky-diving with them this offseason and is continually picking their brains.
“If that ends up being his calling, he’d make one heck of a soldier,” Lee said.
For the time being, Shaw will have to settle for being one heck of a quarterback.
But, then, Shaw has never been in it for the attention.
“Ten years from now, people aren’t going to ask Connor Shaw, ‘How much attention did you get?’ ” Spurrier said. “They’re going to ask him, ‘What was your record? How many games did you win, and how many games did you lose?’ That’s basically all that’s going to be remembered when your playing days are over.”
Shaw wouldn’t have it any other way, and he’ll only cement his legacy if he can guide the No. 11 Gamecocks to Atlanta for a shot at their first SEC championship.
“One of the reasons I came to South Carolina was there was an opportunity to do a lot of things for the first time,” Shaw said. “We’ve done some of those things, but have more to do.”
Like any fierce competitor, Shaw wants to be remembered as a winner.
But there’s also something else that’s even dearer to his heart.
“Just being a good teammate and playing through everything I could to always be there for this team,” Shaw said. “That’s how I hope I’ll be remembered.”
Something says he’ll get his wish.