Jaybo Shaw’s Lasting Legacy
By BJ Bennett
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League championship ring in hand, the door officially closed on Shaw this past weekend in Statesboro.
The philosophy, in south Georgia, has a long history of consistent success. Fans in and around Statesboro have as strong a bond with their team's style of play as you will find anywhere in college sports. Think of how passionately the Steeler faithful indentify with their team's physical defensive reputation, only dip this blue brand in thick batter and deep fry it. After some schematic dabbling under the likes of Brian VanGorder and Chris Hatcher, the 2010 hiring of Georgia Tech running backs coach and Paul Johnson disciple Jeff Monken sent a clear, strong message: Georgia Southern was going back to its roots.
Monken's arrival rejuvenated a somewhat-fragmented fan base. The Eagles now had their coach and had their direction. What they needed, having a roster full of signal callers recruited for a spread system, was a quarterback. Just as the administration looked to the former GSU head coach Johnson for their new hire, Monken looked to Atlanta for his new offensive centerpiece. After taking some time to weigh his options, then-Georgia Tech reserve quarterback Jaybo Shaw decided to move south, aligning himself alongside Monken in a powerful rebranding of the top name in FCS football.
"It was definitely tough, because I was having to leave the relationships that I had built up in Atlanta, but it also made it a little bit easier knowing who I was going to play for with Coach Monken. He recruited me coming out of high school and I knew what kind of man he was, that made it a lot easier," Shaw explained. "Then when I got down here the guys on the team just made me feel right at home, it almost felt like I had been here for four years. All of the credit goes to those guys, my teammates just for accepting me and the fans as well. I couldn't be more thankful. The teammates, the coaches and the fans definitely made it an easy transition."
As expected, Shaw brought leadership and stability to Statesboro. He also, faster than anyone could have projected, helped bring Georgia Southern back to where it once was: near the top of the national polls. In his two years as starter, Shaw helped lead the Eagles to consecutive FCS semifinals showings; these runs coming right after a 5-6 season in 2009.
Shaw and Georgia Southern earned an at-large bid into the postseason in Monken's first year, going 7-4 in a regular season where all four losses came by seven points or less. An early November overtime win against Appalachian State likely nudged the Eagles over the hump. Slowed by a hip injury that afternoon, Shaw rushed for 86 yards and a second quarter touchdown and converted a critical third down before Robert Brown scored the go-ahead overtime touchdown one play later. Wins over South Carolina State, William & Mary and Wofford surged GSU to a season-ending final four showdown at Delaware.
Year two of the Monken era saw the Eagles rally off seven straight wins to open the year. At least 40 points were scored in five of those victories, throwback-like production from the famed triple-option offense. At 9-1, Georgia Southern headed to Tuscaloosa for a tilt with eventual FBS national champion Alabama. The Crimson Tide led just 31-21 late in the third quarter before claiming a 45-21 win. The Eagles scored the most points on Alabama all season, mustering a higher total than SEC Champion LSU was able to in two tries combined. GSU rushed for 302 yards against the Tide's top-ranked run defense. The total was more than twice as many yards as any other team compiled against Alabama all year long. Shaw had a 39-yard scoring pass, one of the longest plays registered against Kirby Smart's defense on the season.
"It was fun. We went out there and played like we had nothing to lose and we didn't. We just went out there and played and had fun and enjoyed that experience and that atmosphere and I think it showed," Shaw recalled. "We just sat back and relaxed and played, played the game of football. We knew we were prepared because the coaches had us in a great gameplan. We just trusted the gameplan and went on and executed. We came up short of course, but we played hard and I think that was what our goal was. I think we represented our school well and that's what we were trying to do."
Georgia Southern had a first-round playoff bye, then scored 90 points in postseason triumphs over Old Dominion and Maine. Shaw scored three total touchdowns against the Monarchs, three more against the Black Bears. The year, and Shaw's career, then came to a close in the Fargo Dome in a loss to North Dakota State. As the Eagles prepare to start the 2012 season with national championship expectations, a look back helps detail why: 21 wins, two deep playoff runs and the guidance of a gritty, undersized Georgia Tech-transfer has restored the foundation of one of college football's most powerful football programs.
"It's been a blessing. Being here with Coach Monken and my teammates, the past two years have been a dream come true. We came up a little short both years but I wouldn't have traded it for anything," Shaw stated. "The experience...just being in this community, there's not better fans in the country and I know that for a fact. Just being able to be here, playing for Coach Monken, and being apart of this great tradition, it's just been a blessing and I couldn't be more thankful."
The architect, Monken, is now an established national name. His rise comes after long-following another. He was a graduate assistant at Hawaii when Johnson was the offensive coordinator. Monken then reunited with Johnson in Statesboro, where two national championships were won in his five seasons as head coach. Monken followed Johnson to Navy for for six years and Georgia Tech for two before accepting his first head coaching job with Georgia Southern in 2010. Monken has developed considerable perspective and wisdom over his time as an assistant. His magic has had a profound effect on Shaw.
"It was awesome, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I cherished every moment of it," he explained of playing for Monken. "That's why he is so successful, he is so driven. He demands greatness from his guys and they buy in. They know that he cares about them. It's not just what his players can do for him on Saturdays, he's trying to develop the guys and teach them things in life and how to be a man. I think that goes a long way, it earns the respect of his players and they go out on Saturdays and play for him and the football tradition of the school. It was awesome, I couldn't have asked for more."
This past weekend Shaw was on hand to receive his 2011 Southern Conference championship ring and watch his former teammates compete in their final scrimmage of the spring. Just as he reflected on his career that afternoon, he took some time to think about the football future at Georgia Southern. The former starting quarterback liked what he saw.
"I thought they looked good, they were really impressive of course. You could tell they have been putting in a lot of hard work. I'm just excited to be able to watch those guys continue to play and get better. It was exciting to be out there at Paulson and watch those guys compete," he acknowledged.
Shaw kept a keen eye on the quarterbacks, a collection of talented athletes vying to take over under center. Simplifying the situation, he suggests, is the key running the triple-option offensive set.
"One of the things I would tell them after being in that system for four years is not to make it bigger than what it really is. You're playing football. As long as you are competing, playing hard and playing for the guys beside you, I think that takes care of the rest," he added.
In addition to following Ezayi Youyoute, Jerick McKinnon and company, Shaw will be closely watching another quarterback this fall. His younger brother, Connor, is the starting quarterback for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Even with their respective careers taking them to different states, the brothers continue to be close. Jaybo has high expectations for Connor's second year as starter.
"We're best friends, we talk every single day no matter if it's football or whatever it may be about. Sometimes it's about football but most of the time it's really not. He doesn't need any of my help, he's doing his thing up there in Columbia," Shaw chuckled. "It's just going to be fun this year being able to see him play on Saturday, to see him compete and be the guy up there. I'm telling you they got great a shot to do good things up there in the SEC and the SEC East. It's going to be excited to watch those guys play."
League championship ring in hand, the door officially closed on Shaw this past weekend in Statesboro. As it eased shut, however, it did so with the complete admiration and respect of his teammates.
"He was a leader and role model for this team. We wouldn't have had the success we had without his experience and leadership skills," stated former starting safety Derek Heyden.
Shaw, following Monken, came to Georgia Southern after a half-decade of gridiron turmoil. He leaves with his name fondly in the minds of Eagle players, coaches and fans and his team's name comfortably back in the national fold.