Elisha Shaw going to Alabama on medical scholarship

A year ago Thursday, Tucker’s Elisha Shaw imagined how glorious Wednesday’s signing day — his signing day — might be.

Then ranked among the nation’s top prospects at defensive tackle, Shaw had his world turned upside down in a preseason scrimmage in August.

A neck injury sustained while making a tackle left him not only unable to play his senior season, but unable to play again, doctors told him.

But Shaw still had a big signing-day moment thanks to coach Nick Saban and Alabama. He committed to Alabama at a news conference along with his Tucker teammates. But he won’t count toward the recruiting class. The Crimson Tide offered to put him on medical scholarship as a student-coach or a trainer so he can still get a college education.

“It’s great,” Shaw told the AJC on Thursday afternoon. “Everything is coming out as planned. Well, not as planned. Everything is coming is good, definitely much better than I thought.”

Said Tucker coach Bryan Lamar, “Once we found out what was going on with his injury, I contacted Alabama and let them know about it. Again, he still has to do schoolwork. But as long as he qualifies, they are going to take care of him.”

Last summer, Shaw listed Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss as his leaders, but had not committed anywhere when he got the grim medical diagnosis. His coach approached Alabama assistants Kirby Smart and Chris Rumph (now at Texas) about a medical scholarship.

“We didn’t talk to anybody else about this,” Lamar said. “I didn’t set it up like that. What happened was when he was injured, and we found out the possibility that he might not play, I asked him where did he want to go. He wanted to go the University of Alabama. He had talked to them about being a silent commitment.

“He said he wanted to go to Alabama, so I said let me talk to them about it and see if they would take care of him. And it worked out.”

Shaw’s coach praised Alabama for the act of goodwill. Tucker’s roster has more than a dozen players with major-college scholarship offers, and junior defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter committed to Alabama a couple of weeks ago.

“It is outstanding,” Lamar said. “It says a lot about Alabama. He is a kid they really wanted, and unfortunately he got injured, but they are going to take care of the kid. That’s a blessing in itself.”

Shaw planned to commit to Alabama on national TV during last month’s Army All-American Bowl, but he wasn’t ready. The pain ran too deep.

“I held off because I didn’t want to tell everybody my story yet,” Shaw said. “I was going to do it on TV, and then I talked to my recruiting coach at Alabama.

“He said if I’m going to commit to Alabama, I had to tell everybody the full story because they’re recruiting other (defensive tackles), and it might scare them off unless they hear my full story. I really didn’t want to do that because I was trying to get over it.”

There was no way to keep the news from leaking Wednesday when the media showed up to see Shaw and 15 his teammates reveal their college choices at a Tucker signing ceremony. Rumors also began to appear on message boards, and Shaw was ready to tell the full story to the AJC.

“The reality is nobody can play football forever,” Lamar said. “It’s not the easiest thing for Elisha to never be able to play again. He went out to the Army Bowl, and it was tough for him not being able to play, and watching the guys practice.

“The thing about his injury, he feels great. He’s not in a situation to where he has an injury where he feels uncomfortable. It makes it easier where you can’t move as well. Right now, he doesn’t have any pain. It’s just a situation where he has instability with his neck. It’s not a pain thing, but it’s where (if) he takes a wrong shot, it could be pretty bad.”

“I still feel like I can play, and (as if) I have a game next week,” Shaw said.

If Shaw can meet NCAA academic requirements and have his medical paperwork approved by the SEC, he will enroll at Alabama. He is considering a career as a football coach. Despite not being able to play at Tucker last season, Shaw attended practices and games as a member of the team, which advanced to the Class AAAAA state championship game.

“When I couldn’t play this season, I got into coaching and started liking it,” Shaw said. “I’m going to study to be a coach at Alabama. I love the game, and I know it well. If I can’t play football, I still want to be around it.”

It was a heartwarming gesture by Alabama, which caused some hard feelings in the Atlanta community a couple of years ago by asking North Atlanta High’s Justin Taylor to take a grayshirt offer shortly before signing day because he suffered a knee injury. Taylor committed to Alabama a year earlier, and ended up switching to Kentucky rather than delay his enrollment at Alabama.

Also, the Wall Street Journal accused Alabama of using medical scholarships to “gain a competitive edge by encouraging some underperforming players to quit the team for medical reasons” in a 2010 article.

For Shaw, this appears to be another of several obstacles he has overcome in the past couple of years. He was academically ineligible to play as a Tucker sophomore, but worked hard in the classroom to get back on the field the next year. At the end of his junior season, he suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last spring’s workouts. Shaw had returned to full health when he suffered the career-ending neck injury.

“I appreciate everything that (Lamar) and Alabama has done for me,” Shaw said. “I’ve been loyal to Alabama, and they’ve always been loyal to me.”