A Twist of Fate Brought Shafer to Florida

Justin Shafer grew up with his eyes set on playing baseball for Clemson. His sister went to school there, and he watched the baseball program put together year-after-year of successful seasons. Shafer was set to play for the Tigers, until one conversation changed his mindset.

Shafer went to a camp at Clemson early in his high school career and spent time with some of the players. Clemson had just lost pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin O'Sullivan, who became the head coach at Florida.

At the camp, Clemson players spoke highly to Shafer about O'Sullivan. The pitchers spent the most time with him, but even position players loved his energy.

Matt Vaughn, who recorded 11 saves in 2008 as the Clemson closer, became close with Shafer that week. It was Vaughn's words that made Shafer think he needed to add Florida to the list of schools he was considering.

"Matt told me that he loved Clemson's program, but that if there was any other program he would go to, it would be Florida's because of Sully," Shafer said. "Whenever Florida saw me and started talking to me, I loved the program and heard so many good things about Sully from Matt."

Shafer made that commitment to Florida during the summer after his sophomore season, a week after he visited the campus and spent time with the coaches.

It was a drastic turn from what the Lake Wales High School product thought when he was a kid. He wasn't only focused about Clemson, but when he thought about college baseball, Florida wasn't on his radar.

"Growing up, I didn't know of Florida's baseball program," Shafer said. "I didn't know at all until Sully got there. The only baseball programs I heard of growing up were Miami and Florida State."

Shafer plays shortstop in high school, but the 6-2, 185-pound athlete could play anywhere at Florida. He could remain in the infield, while some scouting services project him as an outfielder. Shafer also pitches in high school and could see time on the mound when he gets to college.

"Wherever they need me is where I play," Shafer said. "I don't care. As long as I play, it doesn't matter where."

Shafer also thought about playing quarterback at the college level. He had offers and interest from multiple schools in the southeast, including every school in Florida. When Urban Meyer was still the head coach, the staff told Shafer that he could participate in spring practice and earn a scholarship. Florida State and Miami said the same thing.

"They have Jeff (Driskel), but they told me that if I wanted to come out in the spring, they would give me (a scholarship)," Shafer said. "I hate to say this because I don't really like them too much, but if I was going to play football in the state of Florida, I probably would've gone to Florida State because of Jeff being at Florida."

Shafer enjoyed his time on the high school football field, but he isn't as sad as some to see it come to an end.

"I enjoy playing football, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I do playing baseball," Shafer said. "Whenever football season got over, I was ready for it to be done. With baseball, I'm not ever ready for it to be over."

Shafer and Driskel have played against each other on the diamond, but it wasn't until last summer that they became friends. That's when they played on the same travel team and spent time together off the field. That friendship will now boil over into their time in Gainesville.

"I've played against him my whole life, not really knowing who he was but knowing of him," Shafer said of Driskel. "He was a great baseball player. In the outfield, he could run down anything and he had an arm. With his speed, anytime he hit the ball, the chances are it was going to be a hit with how fast he was."

Shafer played summer ball with fellow Florida signees Daniel Vogelbach and Sean Trent. He also met left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner on his official visit to Florida, and the two are expected to room together in Gainesville.

That official visit allowed Shafer to see what his life will be like when he moves to Gainesville.

"I had a great time," Shafer said. "I ended up with Keenan Kish, and with the time of person I am, he fit me perfectly. The team is really relaxed. Some schools have the players pressure you into stuff, but no one really cared. We just relaxed and hung out."

The one barrier between Shafer and playing for the Gators is the MLB Draft that will take place this summer. He doesn't know what to expect, but it would take a lot of money to keep him away from going to college.

"I have no idea where I'll be taken, but I know that if I do (sign with a professional team), it's going to have to be something very good to take me away from going to Florida," Shafer said. "I want to go to college. I don't want to miss out on the college experience. For me not to go to college, it would have to be something to where I would have to be ridiculous to turn down."


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