For weeks, Shirley maintained that he was down to Arizona, Miami, USC and Washington, and as late as Tuesday night, the latter three schools were still in the mix.
Yet on FSN's High School Spotlight Show, Shirley surprised everyone by donning the UCLA hat.
A lean to UCLA in the beginning, Shirley then toward the end of his recruitment said the Bruins were out of the mix for him. But despite no in-home visits from the UCLA coaches and no official visit to Westwood, Shirley picked the Bruins, saying he decided just before going on the air.
"Like 30 seconds before I went on the air, I decided on them," said Shirley. "I was really down to the nitty gritty. But I know I made the right decision on UCLA. It was kind of at the last minute. I kind of felt it the most then. I was looking at every school, trying to find ways and trying to find reasons to go to each and every school."
Shirley insisted the Bruins were never quite out of it, even when he wasn't talking about them.
"They weren't on the top the last few weeks, but they were in the mix, it just wasn't enough to be mentioned. I just did a lot of thinking. I tried to imagine myself at each and every school without football and that's where UCLA kept coming out on top," said Shirley. "When all this started a few weeks ago, I wasn't showing UCLA the love they really deserved. In their minds, they thought they had no chance with me. But Coach (Rick) Neuheisel didn't stop recruiting me."
And that paid off for Neuheisel, who got the final call from Shirley just before he went on television.
"I talked to him right before I announced it," said Shirley. "I called him before I went on and he was pretty shocked, too."
Shirley said at the beginning of his recruitment, UCLA was his favorite school.
"They started on strong, like in the spring of my junior year," said Shirley. "That's when I started to break down my schools. On the weekends I would go up there, watch the practices then I'd go to the games, and it was a back and forth thing, one week I'd go to UCLA and one week to USC."
As his junior film made the rounds, Shirley started to pick up scholarship offers from all over the country, including the entire Pac-10 and schools like Notre Dame, Tennessee and Miami.
He visited Washington, Arizona, Miami and USC officially, and that's why he emphasized those four schools in interviews. Shirley said despite much speculation that he was headed to USC, Washington was who finished second for his services.
"If I didn't go to UCLA, I would have gone to Washington," said Shirley. "I really liked the coaches there."
Since the Army Game, though, in which Shirley scored a touchdown off a blocked field goal by fellow UCLA signee Cassius Marsh, Shirley said the Bruins started to return to his thought process, but it wasn't as if he was getting pressure from the other UCLA commits at the game, since only Malcolm Jones was a verbal at that time.
"It's funny, because I talked with Malcolm a little bit about it, and he was like "Come to UCLA, I love it," but none of the other guys were really talking much about it. Marsh was all about LSU, Owa was trying to play it cool, and it seemed like he was more about Oregon and Nebraska. I asked for his phone number (on Tuesday before Signing Day), because I heard he was thinking about UCLA, so I talked with him that night. I still didn't know if he was picking them (on Signing Day)," said Shirley. "I would say a couple weeks after the Army Game, maybe a week or so after, I started to think about UCLA more. They hadn't given up and that's another thing that I liked."
The days leading up to Signing Day were the toughest for Shirley, who said he bounced from school to school.
"Up to the final hour, things like, ‘Is this the right school, is that the right school,' were what I thought about," said Shirley. "I said every school was even. But inside, I knew it was the right thing to do to go to UCLA. I tried to imagine myself at every school. In my mind, I though, I'm committed to Miami, I'm committed to USC, I'm going to Washington. But I just kept coming back to UCLA. In my heart, that was where I wanted to go. It felt good the first day I knew I was going there and felt even better the second day and it just keeps getting better. So when I announced it, I was relieved. I was very relieved. I made my decision, went to Roscoe's, then faxed the letter in. It was a hectic day."
Moments after Shirley announced for the Bruins, Anthony Jefferson also picked UCLA on the Fox show and then Dietrich Riley did a little while later on ESPN, giving the Bruins a strong close on Signing Day.
Shirley said, "I knew that Anthony was going to UCLA for a while, but Dietrich, I didn't know what he was going to do. When we last talked, he was 100% USC. The recruiting process was crazy for all of us."
Shirley was one of four UCLA commits in the Army Game, and he said despite not knowing they'd all end up together in college he clicked with them.
"Most of the people that I played with at the Army Game, Owa, Marsh and Maclcolm, now we're all on the same team," said Shirley. "And I was doing the camps with Riley. Being behind Owa at the game and seeing how good he is, I have a good feeling about what we can do at UCLA. My teammate now, Marsh, blocked that field goal and I just took it in and ran it in for a touchdown (in the Army Game), and I hope we can do that in college."
Shirley's position for UCLA is set as a linebacker. Which side remains to be seen.
"I could go in kind of as a weakside or be over the tight end, and maybe rush the quarterbacks in some packages, we'll see when I get there," said Shirley. "I know that linebacker is the right fit for me, but I think I can still rush the passer in some special packages."
Shirley said his family was thrilled with his decision to stay close to home, despite proximity never being a factor in his decision.
"My family is all excited and they'll be able to come see me play," said Shirley. "My brother (Jason, who plays for the Bengals) said to go somewhere that I could go and learn and get ready to make an impact and hopefully be where he's at."
Shirley said he'll be finally taking his official visit to UCLA at the end of this month, which he had purposely left open.
"I'll be going up there at the end of this month and we'll sit down and watch my film and then I'll hopefully have a better idea of where I'll play," said Shirley. "Coach Neuheisel, Coach (Chuck) Bullough and Coach (Clark) Lea, I talked to all of them later on Signing Day and they were all excited and said they couldn't wait to get me up there."
In the meantime, Shirley is wrapping up wrestling and then will do track, sprints and relays.
"My sports are worked around football but I'm wrestling heavyweight right now and then in track, I'll run the 200m and 100m and 4x100m," said Shirley.
Then come June, he'll be in Westwood.
"I'll get myself in there in June and be ready to come in and play or do whatever the coaches want me to do," said Shirley.