Tim Shaw did indeed play running back as a true freshman at Penn State, and he was good enough to make the depth chart (behind someone named Larry Johnson and journeyman Mike Gasparato). One of only three true freshmen to see the field in 2002 (along with Tamba Hali and Calvin Lowry), Shaw carried 14 times for 59 yards while Johnson romped for 2,087 yards on 271 totes.
Nevertheless, Shaw emerged as a fan favorite for his hard hits and reckless style as a special teams cover man. I felt privileged, like I was ahead of the game, he said. And to be in a group with Tamba and Calvin I was roommates with Tamba, and we were always telling people we were on the four-year plan out of here. It was cool.
With Johnson having graduated and Gasparato lacking in size and speed, Shaw seemed poised to emerge as the new No. 1 tailback. He did not disappoint, turning in a strong performance in the spring. By summer, he had whipped himself into top shape and was the only underclassman on an otherwise all-senior quartet that won Penn State's first annual Lift For Life Challenge.
Then preseason practice arrived. Shaw's primary competition for the starting tailback job came from a trio of heralded freshmen — Pennsylvania schoolboy star Austin Scott, Virginia bruiser Tony Hunt and South Carolina speedster Rodney Kinlaw. Shaw felt his all-around athleticism, size and — most importantly — ability to block gave him the edge.
The staff thought otherwise. A week and a half before the 2003 season began, Shaw was called to head coach Joe Paterno's office. Then a sophomore, Shaw knew what was in store. We're going to try you out at linebacker, Paterno told him.
No you're not going to try me out, Shaw replied, because I'm going to do well over there you're going to keep me there.
The sting intensified when Tim informed older brother Steve, as well as younger twin siblings Drew and Pete. Furious, they told him, You can play running back anywhere. He knew they were right and briefly considered transferring. I was just mad, and that's the first option that comes to your head: Can I go somewhere?
But then he realized if he transferred, there was no guarantee he would play running back at the new school, either. If the Penn State experience taught him anything, it was that once you arrive at a program, all bets are off. So he decided to stay. And he decided to redshirt to learn his new position.
And so began the worst season of Tim Shaw's athletic career.
Game weeks are practically managed to the second at Penn State. For the coaching staff, everything is regimented, with a finite amount of time set aside to deal with every video clip, every staff meeting, every playbook entry and — in fact — every player. The starters get the most attention, followed by the second team and so on down the line. Athletes who are redshirting are in most cases lowest on the ladder because, realistically speaking, they have virtually no impact on the bottom line: wins and losses.
They are in-season fodder, coached by graduate assistants, their sole purpose to mimic the upcoming opponent in practice. This is not a time of learning but of paying dues. And for someone who thought he was on the four-year plan out of here, redshirting was a humbling experience for Shaw. During that season, he bounced between running back and linebacker on the foreign team.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions were terrible. The rookie running backs struggled. The linebackers, except for then-true freshman Posluszny, were even worse. And Shaw could do nothing about it.
I didn't have a great attitude, he said. I tried to work hard, but the mentality just wasn't there. That was the whole season. The year ended with a pathetic 41-10 slap-down at Michigan State in which Posluszny appeared to be the only Nittany Lion who didn't quit. The 3-9 record was Penn State's worst since 1931.
The next day, Shaw's new life as a linebacker began in earnest. He remembers saying to himself, All right, it's all equal now. If they're going to give me a chance at this thing, I'm going to get it. That's the mentality I had. Now I'm a linebacker. Don't talk to me about offense. Let's play defense.
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This issue also includes:
OUR PHOTO OF THE MONTH
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Q&A: KULKA AND RICHARDSON
You've heard so much about the Penn State football program's outstanding graduation rate and strong commitments to academics. Now meet the two men who have as much to do with that as anyone: Former Nittany Lion player Todd Kulka and Wally Richardson. Now heading up the football program's academic support team, this dynamic duo goes head to head with FOS editor Mark Brennan, talking about the challenge and rewards of their profession while give an inside look at a part of the program few ever see.
DARIEN HARDY FEATURE
FOS catches up with one of the hidden heroes of Penn State's special teams. See how Hardy went from walk-on to scholarship player by making a name for himself as a kick-cover man.
As any position received less praise at Penn State down through the years than long snapper. Sure, everyone notices when a snap goes awry. But long snappers have also been a part — albeit in a quite manner — of some of the most memorable plays in school history. Lou Prato catches up with three of the very best in his latest contribution to The Magazine.
FOS writer Matt Herb sets his sites on the national scene, examining why fullbacks have become a dying breed in major college football. See how this trends looks though the eyes of one of the nation's top young fullbacks, Pennsylvania schoolboy star Henry Hynoski. Former NFL and college coach Dick Vermeil is among the others who chime in on the topic.
SNOW SLIPS UP
On the home front, Penn State fullback BranDon Snow will be out of action early in the 2006 season after earning a spot in Joe Paterno's dreaded doghouse. How will he react to the punishment?
What impact did the tragic death of Northwestern's Randy Walker have on the rest of the coaches in the league? FOS talked to a number of them to find out how they deal with the high-pressure world of college football.
INSIDE THE HELMET
Sure he can cover and hit. But did you realize former Nittany Lion cornerback Rich Gardner can also turn a phrase. The current Tennessee Titan takes his crack at our series, where actual football players explain the game. Gardner examines the differences between playing cornerback in college and the NFL.
FOS RECRUITING REPORT
There are still months to go before Penn State's Class of 2007 signs. But writer Scott Cole has already spotted some clear trends with this ground. From recruiting versatile athletes, to the debate over early commitments, to the Nittany Lions' alleged inability to recruit Florida, Texas and California, Cole lets you know what's developing.